WASHINGTON, DC — In testimony yesterday before the Senate Armed Services committee, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Burleigh “Buster” Holeflapp detailed the sort of funding the United States Air Force would need to upgrade its current fleet of unmanned drones. He faced tough questioning from members of both parties, but observers felt that chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) was particularly pointed in his queries of the general.
Reed’s concerns stem at least partly from the unprecedented money requested by the Air Force for this fleet upgrade, but the necessity of the improvements seemed to be on the committee’s minds as well. “Half a trillion here, half a trillion there, and pretty soon you’re talking serious coke-and-hookers money” opined Reed when commenting on Holeflapp’s opening remarks, and seemingly paraphrasing an oft-quoted line from the late Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois.
Reed’s biggest concerns, however, seemed to be on the actual need for this program. When asked for details, Gen. Holeflapp explained that the current fleet of drones has begun to exhibit weaknesses unanticipated until these craft were deployed in Ukraine against invading Russian tanks and aircraft.
Elaborating, Gen. Holeflapp stated that “we noticed that sometimes these drones seem to have a mind of their own, veering off course, chasing large birds and dropping bombs on cattle, barns and the occasional peasant farmer. We initially blamed the programmers, then later, we thought perhaps the design itself was inherently flawed. Finally, after blaming these issues on “operator error,” we decided that we needed to rethink the entire drone program.
“We looked back at some of most successful attack and bomber aircraft, and the one common thread seemed to be that they all had actual guys on board. You know, humans. Real ones. Right there on the goddamn plane.”
The general continued, “we felt that the best performance had been from the really big birds. You know — the B-29s and the B-36s. Hell, that Peacemaker had a crew of 13, and you can be goddamn sure they never dropped a 200 kiloton fission bomb on some poor bastard in a wheat field. That’s a lot of eyes and ears to say ‘hey! That’s a fucking cow down there!”
Holeflapp went on to request that the entire fleet of drones be retrofitted to make room for a crew of 10, with provisions for as many as 20. “Think about it. The only thing these babies are missing is that human element. Someone to say ‘Hey, I don’t like the looks of that. Let’s waste it!’ I can’t believe we didn’t think of this before, but se le guerre.”
Sen. Reed adjourned the hearing without making any firm commitments one way or another, but he did seem intrigued by the idea of improving the nation’s drone fleet with the addition of on-board intelligence. “Jesus God. It’s expensive as as hell, and it’s a really radical concept, but I can see where the idea just might work.”
Hearings were set to continue next week, with testimony expected from Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot, manufacturer of the popular Roomba autonomous vacuum cleaners.