Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, isn’t convinced yet that designing the future penetrating bomber aircraft to operate without a pilot in the cockpit would offer operational benefits. “The issue here is what do you want a platform to do and how does being manned or unmanned make that platform more effective,” explained Kowalski during a meeting with reporters last week at AFA’s Air & Space Conference in National Harbor, Md. He continued, “I have not seen a good argument that, in terms of a global strike mission, . . . there is any significant advantage to that platform being unmanned.” Kowalski said he is “not particularly vested either way,” but just hasn’t seen convincing data supporting an uninhabited cockpit versus a manned one. He asked: “Are we sure enough in our modeling and simulation and our artificial intelligence and the devices that we can pull together that we can, with confidence, have a half-a-billion-dollar airplane that consistently comes back to a US base and provides us that surety we need against an extremely complex and chaotic environment?” The Air Force’s stated goal is to field an optionally unmanned new bomber in the mid 2020s.
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.