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The Air Warfare Symposium, conducted by the US Air Force Association on 27 and 28 February 2020, may go down in history as an event where history was foretold. It was here, on the morning of 28 February 2020, that Elon Musk, the quintessential disruptor, set the cat among the pigeons. In a room overflowing with Air Force personnel, many fighter pilots among them, Musk famously predicted the end of the manned fighter aircraft.
Much consternation followed, and copious amounts of newsprint were invested in the counter-narrative that flowed, mainly from the US Air Force and its veterans. Notably, much of the criticism of Musk’s proclamation was aimed at targeting him personally as a ‘head-line grabber’, rather than disproving his assertion through solid logic and evidence. This is probably indicative of the fact that Musk’s prediction may hold more than a modicum of truth.
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History Tells a Story. History is replete with examples of path-breaking inventions being viewed with disdain at inception and thought either impractical or even impossible. For instance, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in 1918 was quite dismissive of aviation, and had famously said that “airplanes are interesting toys, but of no military value.”
The past Century, and the significant role that air power has played in conflicts therein, from WWI and WWII to the Gulf Wars as well as the 1971 Indo-Pak wars, bear testimony to the inaccuracy of Marshal Foch’s proclamation. However, in a similar vein, it may be imprudent to wish away the monumental technological advancements of recent years and the potential for change that they portend, merely because such changes may be undesirable, sound improbable, or, in some cases, seem outlandish.
The age of unmanned systems
While airpower inarguably retains great value in present-day warfare, it is rapidly imbuing an unmanned character. The US Department of Defence (DoD), in its Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap 2005-2030, defines UAVs as “A powered aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely, can be expendable or recoverable, and can carry a lethal or non-lethal payload.”
The extensive use of drones by the US across the world, the clear advantages have drawn by Azerbaijan over Armenia in their recent conflict, and numerous other examples, point to the manner in which unmanned aircraft technology can serve as a force multiplier. As far back as 2013, analyst Dan Parsons had estimated that “future autonomous air refueling of unmanned systems would accord them the capability to remain ‘on station’ for months, and allow all roles from combat to cargo handling.” The question that bears consideration, therefore, is an unmanned aircraft (drones) become the mainstay of airpower in the near future (2030)?
Advanced Air Defence Systems
Concomitant with the advent of unmanned aerial systems, modern Air Defence has also witnessed significant advances in capability. Integrated Air Defence Systems (IADS) have become the order of the day, characterized by highly mobile sensors and weapons, organized in a multi-layered manner. Within these systems, weapons like the Russian S-400 and Chinese HQ-9 cover a significantly large area. Analysts estimate that Russian IADS deployed on NATO’s Eastern Flank threaten to keep NATO Air Power at arm’s length.
AD Systems Vs Drones
While AD systems have evolved, an increasing number of actors are opting to use drones as a mitigating measure. For instance, in mid-2020, Turkish supplied drones assisted the Libyan Govt of the National Accord in destroying Russian Pantsir SHORADS being used by rebel forces. Similarly, the drone attacks on Aramco in Saudi Arabia also underscored the relative advantages that these unmanned aerial systems possess. In this instance, Saudi Arabian Air Defence Systems proved helpless when two oil facilities were attacked by alleged Houthi rebels, who launched 18 drones and seven cruise missiles against two facilities on 14 September 2019. Evidently, unmanned aerial systems in conjunction with long-range missiles, offer an option that is more viable against expensive, highly capable AD systems, as compared to equally expensive, and resource-intensive manned aircraft.
Modern long-range missiles
As the US plans for an increasingly challenging ‘great power competition’ scenario with China, the Pentagon appears to have realized that air support may not be readily available to ground troops caught in a high-intensity conflict over heavily congested air spaces. Accordingly, the US Army has rated ‘Long Range Precision Fire’ as its highest priority. In consonance with this outlook, Lockheed Martin’s website advertises the development of a next-generation, modular Precision Strike Missile, in conjunction with the Army. Long-range ballistic/ quasi-ballistic trajectory missiles offer the government a relatively cheaper option to undertake the precision attacks, as compared to the large number of prohibitively expensive manned aircraft squadrons, currently maintained for such a role.
The future air force
From a Balanced to an Unmanned Force. At present, many Air Forces across the world are striving to achieve a balance between manned and unmanned systems, based on threat perceptions, budgets, and desired capabilities. However, as alluded to by Elon Musk, the day of the manned aircraft may soon be over. This flows from the following aspects:-
The cost of unmanned aircraft will be significantly lower than manned aircraft. Financial savings will accrue, not only from the relatively lower cost of Unmanned Aircraft (UA) but also from the fact that expenditure on training will evolve. This would, initially cover ground-based controllers and, eventually, to no controllers at all, as UAs gradually become completely autonomous. This will lead to further savings resulting from the reduced requirement of flying to maintain the pilot currency, decreased pay and allowances expenditure, etc.
The potential losses suffered in battle would not include precious human lives. Countries will increasingly realize that sending in unmanned aircraft to penetrate defended air space may be more cost-effective. Justin Bronk, the Editor of RUSI Defence Systems, had predicted a “significant move towards unmanned systems for vanguard penetrating roles”.
Manned aircraft carry missiles, as unmanned aircraft. The features mandated onboard an aircraft designed for manned flight are significantly more than on an unmanned one, e.g. ejection seats, Head-Up Displays, etc. At present, an airstrike into hostile or contested areas mandates a comprehensive air package comprising a wide array of aircraft, from AWACS to EW escorts, AD escorts, et al. In effect, the number of actual strike aircraft in a package is only a small proportion of the overall number of aircraft deployed. In an unmanned scenario, this requirement will reduce drastically, leading to further cost-saving.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven unmanned aircraft
AI is slowly becoming ubiquitous in nature, and organizations across the world are scrambling to harness the immense potential of this niche technology. Militaries are no different, and numerous air forces have also invested heavily in research and development in this field. DARPA recently undertook a simulated flight combat competition pitting a top US fighter pilot against AI in five rounds of combat. The AI program won all five rounds in under two minutes. While this may not lead to a definitive conclusion that the fighter pilot is no longer required, it does point to the possibilities that the future portends.
Land and sea-based long-range vectors
Apart from the effect that UAs will have on the size, role, and capabilities of a future Air Force, the advent of long-range, precision vectors sea-based and land-based ï¿½ will also play a key role. The following aspects assume salience:-
Existing land-based capabilities, already extend to thousands of kilometers, which comfortably covers most areas in India’s immediate vicinity. Added to this is the strategic location of India’s island territories, where mobile, long-range missile batteries (Brahmos) could be positioned. This would be able to exert influence over large swaths of sea areas, including choke points. Such deployment of missiles, in lieu of aircraft, would accrue financial savings as well. This derives from the fact that expensive airfields would no longer need to be maintained for manned flights on these islands.
With regard to sea-based vectors, it is common knowledge that 70 percent of the earth is covered with water which, as a corollary, also implies accessibility for sea-based forces to almost every part of the globe. For instance, in the Indian context, the long-range Nirbhay missile (also a product of ‘Made in India’) is reported to have advanced features, including sea-skimming/ terrain-hugging and loiter capabilities. It is also estimated to be capable of an extended range of over 1000 Km. Coupled with this, the development of modern, sea-based, long-range vectors provide naval forces the capability to address targets deep in the hinterland. Therefore, the need for air forces to traverse long distances, using multiple support aircraft (AWACS/ FRA), escorts, etc, to strike distant targets is steadily diminishing.
The issues highlighted above are indicative of the role of future air forces being limited primarily to supporting friendly forces in the Tactical Battle Area. Collectively, these aspects along with developments in the field of unmanned systems, buttress the case for a re-evaluation of the future structure of air forces.
The smart way ahead
USA has drawn out a clear roadmap for UA induction, including fighter aircraft. It may be prudent to adopt a similarly aspirational outlook and plan for a calibrated move from manned to completely unmanned and autonomous air power. In the case of India, with adversarial nations to the West and North, the savings accrued from charting the unmanned course would free up budgets for much-required capabilities such as additional Mountain Strike Corps, Submarines, and Aircraft Carriers also carrying unmanned aircraft.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has clearly laid down the guidance and vision for the Country in terms of adoption of innovations, AI, niche technologies, and the need to ‘leapfrog’ capability gaps. His expectations and intent were made amply clear through his articulation that “India is placed to leverage power of technology and leapfrog into the future.” In the military sense, the low-hanging fruit is airpower, which can easily evolve to becoming a completely unmanned force in the medium term.
China is investing heavily in AI and niche technologies, many of which will enable and drive a move to unmanned aerial assets. It would be short-sighted at best, and disastrous at worst, for India to be left behind in this race for transformation into unmanned airpower. Hence, while it may be tempting to dismiss claims such as those made by Elon Musk as outlandish, and easy to provide convenient self-serving logic for retaining manned air forces, it may result in India sliding backward, rather than surging forward in the race for technology and military capabilities. Hence, embracing unmanned solutions in lieu of the current philosophy of manned aircraft will be operationally relevant, financially prudent, and conceptually futuristic. We need to open our eyes and mind to see that the future is truly unmanned. (IANS/SP)
Great historic events that have shaped the world and changed the outlines of countries are often not recorded in memory, or so we think. Wars made sure to destroy evidence and heritage, and the ones who survived told the tale of what really happened. Folklore, albeit through oral tradition kept alive many such stories, hidden in verse, limericks, and rhymes.
Ringa-ringa-roses, a common playtime rhyme among children across the world, is an example of folklore that has survived for many centuries. It tells the story of the The Great Plague of London which ravaged the city between 1665-1666.
The Plague broke out from improper disposal of garbage and poor sewage conditions. Fleas from the rats that lived in the sewers spread the disease that killed more than half of London's population. Many people fled from their homes as there was no medicine available for those who were infected.
Beak-shaped masks worn during the Great Plague of London Image source: wikimedia commons
It was around this time that masks began to be invented. The first masks were shaped like beaks, and were worn not to protect the wearer from the disease, but to the prevent them from being able to smell the decay and death around them, which they called 'miasma'. The beaks were filled with floral herbs that allowed doctors and nurses to tend to the sick without being reviled from the smell.
Children are often seen forming circles by holding hands and reciting loudly,
Pockets full of posies
We all fall down"
An illustration of the Great Plague of London, 1665 Image source: wikimedia commons
When the last line is sung, they break the circle and fall down. The roses and posies are believed to be the preferred fragrances inside the masks, and a single sneeze (a-tishoo) was enough to infect the one who was exposed to the disease. Consequently, they fell down, ill, and later died.
An alternative version of this rhyme is sung about the fall of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the aftermath of World War II. The roses and posies are interchanged with geranium and uranium, to symbolise what was used in the atomic bomb. But this version is not as famous the original.
Keywords: Rhymes, Ringa-ringa-roses, Great Plague of London, WWII, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Folklore
In modern times, many social movements aim to bring reform to the society we live in, on the basis of certain existing patterns. Patriarchy is something that many aim to cleanse our cultures of, to usher in the era of social and gender equality. Despite all these so-called movements, in southern India, certain societies that patronise matriarchy have existed since before India's independence. The Nairs and Ezhavas of Kerala, and Bunts and Billavas of Karnataka are matrilineal societies that continue to thrive in a patriarchal country.
Kerala remains separate from the rest of India in many ways. Be it literacy policy, form of government, or cultural practices, this state does not always conform to the ideal that India is known for. Even so with their social structure. Certain tribes have remained matrilineal, where the decision-making power rests with the eldest female of the family.
The Nairs and Ezhavas of Kerala, and Bunts and Billavas of Karnataka are matrilineal societies that continue to thrive in a patriarchal country. Image source: wikimedia commons
A male member, who is the close confidante of the matriarch is chosen. He plays a crucial role in representing the male members of his family, and his opinion is highly valued. He is called karavanan. The men reside in separate rooms or in separate houses, and do not interfere in the upbringing of children. Property is also passed down along the lineage of the eldest female. Among the Nairs, matriarchy is more prominently adhered to than the Ezhavas, who have some patrilocal connections.
In Karnataka, the Bunts and Billavas belong to the Tuluva ethnic group. They are also a predominantly matriarchal society, founded on the belief in a legend. Their matrilineal descent is known as Aliyasantana.
The story is told of a demon who threatened to destroy a kingdom if the king did not sacrifice his sons, but the king's sister comes forward to offer her children in sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom. The demon is touched and does not destroy the city. Since then, the kingdom, or the property is inherited through female lineage.
In Karnataka, the Bunts and Billavas belong to the Tuluva ethnic group. They are also a predominantly matriarchal society, founded on the belief in a legend. Image source: wikimedia commons
In the recent past, many of these matriarchal societies have been reduced to matrilineal societies by certain governmental laws. They fall under the patriarchal scheme of the rest of the state but have reserved the right to pass on property and heritage through the female line. In the North east of India, matriarchal dominance is far more resilient than the south.
Keywords: Bunts, Billava, Nair, Ezhava, Aliyasantana, Matrilineal, South India, Karnataka, Kerala
Apple inc. Is an American multinational tech firm specialized in consumer electronics, computer programs, and internet services founded by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne in 1976 to manufacture Wozniak's Apple iComputer. It is the world's top tech company in turnover (totaling $274.5 billion in 2020) and its most valuable corporation. Apple is the fourth-largest PC seller by unit sales and the fourth-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world.
Apple has revealed a slew of new products at a special launch event that has been long-awaited. On the day of the live event, Apple announced the iPad mini, Apple Watch Series 7, iPhone 13 mini, and iPhone 13, as well as the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Apple has revealed a slew of new products at a special launch event that has been long-awaited. | Photo by Daniel Romero on Unsplash
In the first major product announcement during the event, Apple introduced the newest edition of the iPad and a 5G-capable iPad Mini.
iPad: The 10.2-inch iPad is equipped with a solid A13 processor that delivers 20 percent quicker performance than the preceding version. According to Apple, it is now three times faster than a Chromebook. A new 12MP ultra-wide camera with Center Stage, which utilizes machine learning to optimize the front-facing camera during FaceTime video chats, as well as more incredible accessory support, including compatibility with the first-generation Apple Pencil, are among the new features. For 64GB of storage, the iPad costs $329.
iPad Mini: In addition to reduced borders and more rounded edges, the 8.3-inch iPad mini also has improved front and back cameras. A liquid retina display, USB-C compatibility, magnetic support for the Apple Pencil, an enhanced speaker system, and new hues such as pink and purple are all features of the new Apple iPad Mini. The starting price is $499.
In the first major product announcement during the event, Apple introduced the newest edition of the iPad and a 5G-capable iPad Mini. | Photo by Leone Venter on Unsplash
The other major unveiled products include:
iPhone 13 and other variants: The iPhone 13 range is almost identical to the iPhone 12 lineup, with a 5.4-inch iPhone 13 Mini, a 6.1-inch iPhone 13, a 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro, and a 6.7-inch iPhone 13 Pro Max. It was also revealed that the Watch Series 7 has a smaller "S7" processor, which may allow for a bigger battery or other components to be housed in a smaller footprint. The gadgets have a revolutionary design that includes a dual-camera system, placed diagonally. Apple's iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini have longer-lasting batteries than the previous generation of devices. In addition, Apple claims that the iPhone 13 will have a battery life that is 2.5 hours longer than the iPhone 12, and the iPhone 13 mini will have a battery life that is 1.5 hours longer. A more energy-efficient display, an upgraded 5G chip, and functionality called "Cinematic Mode," similar to the famous Portrait mode function but is only available for movies, are among the other enhancements. The A15 Bionic chip present in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini is also used in the 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro and 6.7-inch iPhone 13 Pro Max, also 6.1-inch devices. However, it also has a five-core CPU, which promises graphics that are 50% quicker than previous models. Other notable features of the Pro devices include a brilliant Super Retna XDR display with a higher refresh rate and long-lasting battery life. Now, for the price, it will start at $699 for the iPhone 13 mini with 128 GB of storage, $799 for the iPhone 13 with 128 GB of storage, and the Pro and Pro Max have starting prices of $999 $1,099, respectively.
Apple Watch Series 7: The new Apple Watch Series 7, which is smaller and has a larger screen than its previous model, was introduced by Apple on Wednesday. There is a 20% increase in screen size over Series 6 on the new watch. A complete keyboard that you can touch or slide to write out text messages can show 50% more text. It starts at $399.
Keywords: Apple, iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max, iPhone Mini, Apple event 2021