Commentary from Stuart Koehl on the outstanding American Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, via the Worldwide Standard:
A single MQ-9 Predator can remain aloft with a useful sensor
and weapons payload for more than a day at a time, as compared to typical
mission times of 4-6 hours for an F-16 or an A-10 (aerial refueling can extend
time on station, but then the limiting factor becomes pilot endurance).
Therefore it takes about 3-4 F-16s to provide the same degree of coverage as a
single Predator. But the F-16 costs about $40 million, and the Predator
something on the order of $8 million, so in terms of cost, the difference is
$120-160 million for the manned aircraft, vs. $8-10 million for the UAV. And
that's without counting the operation and maintenance (O&M) costs such as
fuel, spares, maintenance, etc. Moreover, being slow and capable of loitering at
high altitude, the UAV can provide its own ISR capability, for which the manned
aircraft must rely on other platforms (ironically, mostly UAVs). As the U.S.
develops a wider range of effective lightweight munitions intended to reduce
collateral damage, the number of targets that can be engaged by a single
Predator UAV also increase, making them as competitive in that area as any
UAVs can therefore be a force and budget multiplier for the
Air Force's LIC mission. For the cost of a single F-22 (perhaps $115 million),
the Air Force could buy fourteen Predators...
This sounds like a good deal and is the future of warfare. How about a future Air Force consisting of 500 manned fighters plus swarms of inexpensive and increasingly more capable UAVs!