While the Navy may view the F-35 as the last manned fighter—an opinion voiced by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus last week—the Air Force doesn’t agree. Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, speaking at a Defense One symposium on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., said of Mabus’s remark: “No. I don’t believe that.” In the timeframe Mabus was talking about, Welsh said the Air Force would need “a number of platforms” with human crews aboard. “Keeping a human out of the risk equation is relevant to a point, but it’s not the major point,” explained Welsh. “The human brain … as a sensor in combat is still immensely important in our view,” he said, due to its ability to rapidly assimilate conditions and develop situational awareness. “Until we have a set of sensors that can maneuver as well as a manned platform in every scenario, then you should continue that manned platform,” he said. Remotely piloted aircraft are useful for missions requiring endurance beyond that of a human being, and the Air Force will always use RPAs when “the unmanned platform does the job better,” said Welsh.
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