Monday, April 2, 2018

UAV Manning 7x Manned Aircraft !

One of the arguments for unmanned vehicles is that fewer people are required.  However, not only is that not true, it appears that the opposite is true by a wide margin!

 “The [remotely piloted aircraft] … requires much more architecture than, say, an F-16 squadron,” Kwast [Lt. Gen. Steven L. Kwast, the commander of Air Education and Training Command] said. While the ratio of people to aircraft in manned aviation is roughly 1.5 to 1, he said, it takes about 10 people to operate one UAV at any given time.” (1)


According to the Air Force, it requires 7x more people to operate a UAV !!!!!!!!!!

I’m stunned.  I knew there was no manpower savings but I had no idea that it required that big an increase in manning.  I’d love to know what it is the extra people do.

So much for the manpower savings argument.



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(1)Military.com website, “Air Force Wants to Decrease Manning for Its UAVs”, Oriana Pawlyk, 24-Feb-2018,


20 comments:

  1. Is that ratio only for operating the aircraft while in flight, or does it take into account maintenance and support personnel? Surely an F-16's more high performance engines would require lengthier maintenance than the turboprop on a Reaper UAV.

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    1. Good question. I don't know the personnel breakdown. Let me know if you ever come across anything about it.

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  2. How do we define "operate"? If we simply mean to pilot the aircraft, the number for manned makes sense, but does it really take 10 people to pilot an unmanned aircraft? Does that number include people involved in launch and recovery? If so, that is not an accurate comparison. If we speak in terms of total number of people required to keep an aircraft operational, I'd assume the unmanned has the advantage. For the amount of combat capability provided by the number of people required, I would place my bet on the manned aircraft.

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    1. I don't know the personnel breakdown but if the Air Force was complaining about it, it has to be a significant and "real" hit, not just a couple of guys who take a couple of minutes to launch the UAV.

      Let me know if you ever see a jobs breakdown of the manning.

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    2. "does it really take 10 people to pilot an unmanned aircraft?"

      I have no idea but, pure speculation on my part, Air Force UAVs tend to be long endurance and require multiple crews to keep flying. Thus, it may take 3-4 crews for a single aircraft/single mission. Maybe that's what the General is referring to?

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  3. I looked around the web and couldn't find any, "why" this military.com article is true. I know that the Air Force pilots don't like flying drones as it's seen as a poor career move.

    I also know that if an r-4 can fly for 30 hours that takes about 3 to 5 crews to actually sit and man it. But obviously that is a good thing. It pretty tough to swap crews out of a flying f-16 or f-18 during a 30 our flight.

    Is there a bit of apples and oranges going on? I'm not sure but suspect it might be a lot of the, "problem".

    Having said there, there is no reason not to automate what is happening on a drone as much as possible. It's still a, "young" field and certainly can be done with less people once the procedures and skills improve. As I understand it the AF has already decreased the number of people sitting at a control station at any one time.

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    1. I can't seem to type straight this morning. Maybe another cup of coffee. LOL.

      I claim ignorance as to why it takes so many people to run it. Perhaps someone knows and can educate us on the nuances.

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    2. I have no idea what the jobs are that the various crew perform or how they are being "accounted" but if the Air Force is complaining then the budget hit for extra people must be real and painful to them.

      Let me know if you come across any description of the job assignments.

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  4. What about a per flight hour personnel requirement? It may be in the end favourable yo the unmanned aircraft.

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    1. A possible good point. Let me know if you ever see any data for this.

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  5. I've read elsewhere the Air Force has a daily requirement for 65 combat air patrols with each lasting 24 hours. So, I can see a need for 6 pilots and observers for each shift assuming each works an 8 hour shift, plus a back up or two. Then you have your mission commanders, intelligence, liasons, and others in support. But, once they have AI figured out, they might need any humans.

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  6. It sounds like apples and oranges.

    A fighter squadron will typically have 12 aircraft and 20 pilots.
    Which gets us the 1.5 ratio more or less.
    But that doesnt include the ground crew.

    And each pilot gets around 20 hours flying time per month. Roughly 240 hrs total.

    A remotely piloted aircraft squadron with the same 12 aircraft would see 3000 flying hours per month, averaging 4 in the air at any one time.

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    1. How do you see it as apples and oranges? You've identified the exact same factors in both the manned and unmanned cases: flight hours and personnel. That sounds like a directly comparable case!

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  7. One hour of F16 flight requires 1 hour of pilot time, plus housekeeping.
    One hour of Predator flight requires 1 hour of pilot time, plus housekeeping

    One F16 might fly 20 hours a month, requiring 20 pilot hours
    One Predator might fly 140 hours per month, requiring 140 pilot hours.

    A predator doesnt require 7 times the pilots per hour, it just flies 7 times as much.

    The airforce is complaining that it simply cant fly 5x as many flight hours as it did, without an increase in manpower.

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  8. Why do I suspect a new uav will be introduced which will have lower manning requirements? The general can then go ask sugar daddy congress for the new toy that will solve his problem.

    MM-13B

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  9. It's not a particularly meaningful statitic unless you understand the utilization rates.

    An F-16 aircraft squadron doesn't fly 24 hrs per day. A Reaper squadron can and often does maintain 24/7 orbits.

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    1. It is what it is. The Air Force appears to be simply saying that it takes more personnel to operate UAVs than manned aircraft. From a budget perspective, which I assume is the AF's concern, it really doesn't matter why. It only matters what it costs to conduct the mission and the AF is saying that UAV missions/costs are too high due to the personnel requirements.

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    2. I'm not sure I agree. If unmanned is flying 24 hours(or a lot more) than manned comparing them is apples and oranges.
      If we were to take from the stat the wrong info, ie lessen unmanned. Will we just have manned isr and coverage for the 24 hours? Of course the answer is no. We will lose coverage due to unmanned being easier to swap out pilots, less transit time back to base due to less flights, etc.
      So understanding what the stats really say and what we might want to do about them is key.
      So at best I would suggest we don't have enough information to make any kinds of judgements about manned/unmanned with this info.
      At worst I would suspect pilots shouldn't be allowed to determine desire over efficiency. Sometimes pilots should just be told no.

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    3. "I would suggest we don't have enough information to make any kinds of judgements about manned/unmanned with this info."

      Of course we don't have sufficient information. We don't even know what the additional personnel are needed for. The only "known" point is that the AF believes it's too many people - meaning personnel costs - and they want to reduce it.

      The Navy reached the same erroneous conclusion about manning and it resulted in poor maintenance, hollow forces, groundings, and collisions. War is not an efficient business. Sometimes you just need excessive, inefficient bodies!

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    4. I have been following UAV operations and developments for a while.

      I cannot recall anyone in a position of responsibility claiming that unmanned aircraft require fewer people to operate/maintain than manned aircraft.

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