Murphy's Law: December 1, 2003


The U.S. Air Force's new enthusiasm for using UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) had created some unwanted side effects. First, there was the problem getting pilots to willingly serve as ground based controllers for the UAVs. Fighter and freighter pilots saw this as a demotion, even though the air force continued to provide flight pay and promises of real flying assignments after two years of driving UAVs. Pilots also complained that it was actually more difficult to fly a UAV because they could not "feel" what was going on. There was also a debate over the wisdom of using pilots at all, when it was pointed out that enlisted troops could do this, and do it cheaper (they were paid less) and probably better (because many of these young guys had spent years playing video games.) For the moment, officer pilots, who cost millions of dollars to train to fly occupied aircraft, will continue to be used. But now there's another problem; too much data coming from the UAV sensors. Much of the data is video, and users want to see this in real time and use it immediately. But what causes the air force problems is the other types of data that requires people to analyze it and determine if there is anything worth passing on. Hundreds of UAVs, which can stay in the air for 12-24 hours at a time, provide a lot more data on enemy electronic transmissions, or detailed photos of enemy territory. Even before UAVs came along, more capable recon satellites and sensors on manned reconnaissance aircraft were producing more data than could be examined, especially in a timely fashion. One solution proposed is to use more software to examine the data, and let the user decide which is relevant and which is not. This approach would lead to some things being missed, as an experienced human analyst has, so far, proved more capable than software in digging out meaningful information from high resolution photos or masses of electronic data. The air force does not have enough analysts to handle the flood, and is unlikely to get enough money to hire thousands of additional analysts. As a result, the growing number of UAVs is going to change the way intelligence data is analyzed, who gets it, and when.


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