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(For ease of reference, ECT aircraft are the drones, SEDA aircraft are the manned jets)

I have the same problem as How to keep humans pilots instead of AI in a sci-fi future?, except I have a few problems with applying the answers to my world.

Though they're very good answers, the main issue lies in that in my world the aircraft are not autonomous, but rather each one is individually remote controlled by a human operator based in their home nation.

So my question is this: What benefits, if any, do manned aircraft have over remote controlled ones?

Some things to consider:

  • G-Forces aren't an issue for the SEDA pilots, as liquid Handwavium is pumped into the cockpit which negates the effect
  • These aircraft are only operational in Atmosphere
  • Combat only takes place at short range, WW2-styled dogfight distance. (Handwavium again)
  • SEDA could manufacture and deploy their own drones, but choose not to because of [reasons I'm hoping this question will answer]

I'm very grateful for any help on this, and if I'm too vague or need me to elaborate on something let me know and I'll try to fix it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Can't you just handwave that armchair pilots are too careless with the otherwise expensive drones? $\endgroup$ – HingeSight Mar 22 '18 at 19:45
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I'm somewhat grinding my teeth with all this handwavium around, because it's just as easy to handwave the reason for using pilots if you're going to do everything else by handwavium.

Anyhow ...

Pilots have only two advantages in practice in your world :

  • They're the only way to give your aircraft independent control when comms break down or are jammed. Any remote control system is immediately vulnerable to attacks on it's comms, including boring old jamming.

  • Pilots can in principle override what would otherwise be automated instructions. This is both a plus and a minus. E.g. "I'm aborting my attack because there are civilians in the target". Now depending on the circumstances that could be either highly commendable or a court marshal offense, but a human pilot can make a decision about this which may not be apparent or as emotionally involving for a remote operator - seeing things on a screen and being there are two different levels of emotional involvement. Likewise a pilot can try and pilot an aircraft back that would otherwise be lost as automated systems simply were not able to improvise enough to keep it in the air.

There is another approach to your needs :

  • Honor demands a warrior in the action risking his or her life, not sitting in an armchair chatting with his friends. You need possibly a martial culture for this. Remote control weapons might be an issue for a martial culture in this context.

... or ..

  • Law demands a weapons system is manned by someone physically present at it's firing. Could be a "Geneva"-like treaty thing or could be a law your own faction has for some historical reason of it's own.
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  • $\begingroup$ ''Law'' takes it. $\endgroup$ – Harper Mar 22 '18 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ Battlestar Galactica uses "the machines can hack hi-tech, but not low tech" which justifies all their ships being piloted. $\endgroup$ – TemporalWolf Mar 22 '18 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ There is also the issue of latency in a remote-control setup. It's easy to imagine that an input lag of 100ms would make a critical difference in a combat situation. $\endgroup$ – Kaosubaloo Mar 22 '18 at 20:01
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Your situational awareness when sitting in a cockpit is vastly superior to that of a drone pilot sitting on the ground looking at an information feed. This is especially true in a Charlie Foxtrot of a dogfight, which conveniently your handwavium calls for.

There's also an issue of latency. Drones have to relay information back to home to make decisions. If you ever play a 1st person shooter, you are intimately aware of how much of a difference a good ping makes. Being in the cockpit is pretty much the best ping you can get.

Finally, it's possible the tactics support the conservativeness of a pilot whose life is on the line. There are some environments where boldness is punished. If your particular handwavium dog fight is one of those, it may be easy to coax the drone fighters into weak positions because the drone fighter just has some of their nation's material on the line, while the pilot has their own life on the line.

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From the question I inferred that ETC and SEDA are the two opposing parties? If not then drop a comment and I'll edit.

It would solve your problem if ETC has better technology. Maybe they already solved the issue with communication (how to keep it constant and safe from distruptions) and SEDA hasn't. Maybe ETC has specifically invented technology to distrupt SEDA communication and the SEDA pilots are frequently left to fend for themselves.

Another difference could be cultural. Maybe SEDA are proud of having many good pilots and having a strong men and women who can withstand G forces (maybe they were even bred for it) and look down on those punny ETC weaklings who remote-control a drone and call themselves pilots.

Then there could also be an economic difference: for ETC, building drones is not much of a cost, they are expendable. But their pilots are not. They have put a lot of time and money into their education and training and maybe not a lot of people want to be pilots so they don't want to lose any of them. In SEDA's case, everyone can be a pilot, especially if they have a cultural motivation to become pilots because pilots have good social standing and become heroes. On the other hand, they don't want to lose their aircraft, and having an on-board pilot motivates people to not just leave it behind but bring them back in good order as they can't just stand up from a comfortable chair and go home if the plane itself doesn't come back.

Or it could be a combination of all three.

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The best reason to have human pilots, when the factions are roughly equivalent? You're trying to counter the remote drones.

ECT has already gone all-in on drones, the answer isn't necessarily to switch to drones and try to catch up - ECT will have the advantage having already retooled their factories and refined their drone designs. (It could be the answer but that spoils the premise)

Instead, SEDA takes advantage of the inherent need for a drone to have a remote link. Missiles packed with radio-interfering chaff. High tech electronic warfare suites. EMP missiles. A manned fighter can shield against this - a remote drone can't shield its antenna(e)

For SEDA, manned fighters are the best option. They can fully EMP shield their own fighters then jam as loudly as they please, knowing their own fighters will be less affected and thus gain the advantage in a given battle.*

There are a number of other smaller advantages (like reaction time being necessarily shorter being in the plane vs being 1000km away in a bunker, cheaper sensors in the form of the pilot, drones vulnerable to decapitation strike in remote facility) and disadvantages (a drone pilot survives their plane exploding) but how exactly those stack up and balance out in the end is up to you.

*I discount here effective AI driven piloting as a major factor, as you've already specified - that would invalidate the premise altogether. If they exist they must be significantly inferior to a human pilot because otherwise even remote drones are gone

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  • $\begingroup$ At the opposite end of the spectrum: Intercept the drone transmissions, and your HUD can show what the drone is about to do. The ability to know the moment your opponent has a weapon lock on you is game-changing - the ability to automatically deploy anti-missile countermeasures the instant it receives the instruction to fire at you is more so. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Mar 22 '18 at 14:54
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The enemy makes extensive use of decoys and diversionary tactics so the SEDA pilots require a high degree of natural intuition and strong critical thinking skills so as not to waste their bombs/ammunition. Before they attack it's also very difficult for the ECT to detect them so by tricking them into attacking the decoys the ECT can locate and repel their enemy before taking any meaningful losses.

When the ECT is attacking the SEDA the rough terrain and heavy cloud cover puts their massive formations of cheap drones at a disadvantage against the SEDA's smaller force of more expensive but also significantly more capable fighters, like how the Spartans held off the Persian army in the movie "300". In the open sky a swarm of 2-3 slower less maneuverable drones would easily win a dogfight against a single faster more agile fighter because they can work as a pack, in the relatively tight confines of a mountain range with heavy cloud cover they can't benefit from this cooperation.

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Combined operations, especially w.r.t. communication.

Human pilots are able to talk to air-controllers, ground personnell, etc. While AI might be good at operating on its own, however, imagine ground infantry trying to call in an air strike. Under fire, soldiers might not be inclined to interact with a chat-bot; let alone a voice recognition system with gun and artillery noise in the background.

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  • $\begingroup$ The questions posits that the drones have human pilots - they are just sat at a desk on the ground - not in a cockpit in the air. $\endgroup$ – Martin Bonner Mar 22 '18 at 11:28
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    $\begingroup$ I have to agree with @MartinBonner above, so I can't +1 you, but I wanted to thank you for the image of guys under fire trying to interact with a voice recognition system. $\endgroup$ – Joseph Rogers Mar 22 '18 at 16:44
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The most obvious is when there is no communication AKA jamming or radio silence. The other advantage is they more resistant to hacking.

The pilot is right there which means they can operate during radio silence and can't be jammed.

Other than that, there is no real advantage. Drones still have human pilots that see through the same sort of sensors.

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How remote is remote? On earth you could have up to 0.1 second latency in response time just from speed of light limits, plus whatever additional latency the protocols, routing, etc. add. In the type of dogfight combat you're looking to have, that's easily the deciding factor.

Of course it could be considerably lower if the operator is nearby (at least on the same continent) as the drone. On the opposite end, if you're dealing with space-scale distances between drone and operator, remote control drones are just completely out of the question. They'd be destroyed before the operator even knew they were being attacked.

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All remote controlled devices can at least be interfered or jammed. At worst, they can be hijacked. If this is a near future then jamming tech is so powerful that the only way to pilot a SEDA over the enemy territory is to make it completely sealed to electromagnetic waves and EMPs and have a human pilot inside. You can also put a smart autonomous AI robot inside and make a fleet of them, but then this becomes an issue of AI vs human intelligence. If this is the near future you can argue genetic manipulation increases human capacity exponentialy. Surpassing even the smartest AI.

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