(Written while watching my six for Pinch and his compatriots)
I was told that was true by a former commander of TOP GUN who obviously was highly invested in the whole fighter pilot mentality and world, and this was five years ago. It becomes more pertinent the more capable and ubiquitous drone aircraft become. I am not sure it is true, but we are at a point where having a human in the cockpit for the vast majority of the combat missions flown in our current wars can be more of a hindrance than a help. Humans have physical needs and consequently can't remain on station as long as drones. In most cases any ordnance fired is guided electronically and the pilot only ends up pushing a button. That can happen in a cockpit 20,000 ft. above the battlefield, or 10,000 miles away in Las Vegas. From a WaPo article:
Predator crews spent more than 630 hours searching for Zarqawi and his associates before they tracked him to a small farm northeast of Baghdad.
Minutes later, an F-16 fighter jet, streaking through the sky, released a 500-pound bomb that locked onto a targeting laser and killed Zarqawi.
The F-16 pilot, who faced no real threat from the lightly armed insurgents on the ground, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the same honor bestowed on Charles Lindbergh for the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
The Predator pilots, who flew their planes from an Air Force base outside Las Vegas, received a thank-you note from a three-star general based in the Middle East. Senior Air Force officials concluded that even though the Predator crews were flying combat missions, they weren't actually in combat.
No offense to the F-16 pilot but that is ridiculous. A DFC for a mission that carried no more danger than a training run? Granted taking out Zarqawi was huge, but you may as well have given that medal to the freakin' 500 lb. J-DAM. And to completely stiff the drone operators is sorry.
I think that we do need human fighter pilots for now, but that we are not far from the time where fighter drones are a better answer. When was the last dogfight? Vietnam? And even if we must take on 4th and 5th generation Russian and Chinese fighters, aren't we going to be doing so at sensor range? Won't the determining factor be the ability to detect and launch on the other guy from the furthest away. If so wouldn't we be better served by having many more drones that can carry the same weapons and can stay on station longer?
Human frailties also greatly affect the design of fighter aircraft. We have this pesky need for blood to circulate and can only take a certain amount of force before our flesh and bones give out. Aircraft that aren't limited by the need to keep a pilot alive can fly a much bigger performance envelope and ought to be able to out fly the Russians and Chinese. With the administration cutting the F-22 and with the F-35 a weak alternative doesn't it make sense to put our money into existing programs working on these fighter drones? They are exponentially cheaper to build and you can't convince me we can't figure out how to make them work effectively. Until our enemies can field aircraft that can evade our missiles, we can simply put a fleet of drones that can see them long before the enemy closes for a shot and we can focus on the sensors and missiles. I wouldn't want to fly against that and I doubt our enemies would either.