经济学人官方译文 | 欢迎“无人僚机”登场:未来,飞行中队长会由无人机伴飞

Military aviation
军事航空
Welcome to the wingbot
欢迎“无人僚机”登场
Tomorrow’s squadron leaders will be accompanied by drones
未来,飞行中队长会由无人机伴飞

JULY 16th saw the opening of the Farnborough air show. Plane spotters attending the show, which by entente cordiale alternates annually with that in Paris, hoped for an appearance by one of the F-35 Lightning fighters delivered recently to Britain’s air force and navy. The F-35 represented the best that the present has to offer in aerial military technology. The minds of visitors from the aerospace industry and the armed forces, though, were mostly on the future—and in particular what sort of aircraft would follow the F-35. All around the show were drones of almost every shape and size. This raises the question: would future combat aircraft need pilots?
范堡罗航展于7月16日开幕。根据英法间的友好协议,该航展与巴黎航展每年交替举行。飞行爱好者们期盼近期交付英国空军及海军的F-35闪电战斗机之一会在此次航展中亮相。F-35战斗机代表着当今军事航空技术的最高水平。不过,来自航空业和军队的观展者更多还是放眼未来——他们尤其关注继F-35之后将出现怎样的飞机。本次航展上,各种形状和大小的无人机让人应接不暇。由此引出了一个问题:今后的战斗机还需要飞行员吗?

At least part of the answer can be found 400km north of Farnborough, near Preston, Lancashire. Warton Aerodrome is the site of Britain’s nearest equivalent to Lockheed Martin’s celebrated Skunk Works—a research and development facility run by BAE Systems, the country’s largest aerospace and defence contractor. Inside a high-security building called 31 Hanger sitsTaranis, an aircraft named after the Celtic god of thunder.
要寻觅答案,可到范堡罗以北400公里、临近兰开夏郡普雷斯顿(Preston)的某地略探究竟。那里有个沃顿工厂(Warton Aerodrome),是英国最大的航空航天及防务承包商英国宇航系统公司(BAE System)旗下一个研发机构的所在地。在英国,该机构是与洛克希德·马丁著名的臭鼬工厂(Skunk Works)最具可比性的一个。在一栋戒备森严、名叫31 Hanger的建筑内,安放着一架根据凯尔特神话中的雷电之神Taranis命名的雷神无人机。

经济学人官方译文节选 | 欢迎“无人僚机”登场:未来,飞行中队长会由无人机伴飞

Taranis looks like something out of “Star Wars”. It is about the size of a small jet fighter, but is shaped like a flying wing. It is an unmanned, stealthy combat drone. Like most military drones it can be operated, via a secure data link, by a pilot sitting in a control centre on the ground. Taranis, however, can also be let off its digital leash and allowed to think for itself using artificially intelligent automated systems. Left to its own devices, Taraniscan take off, find its way to a combat zone, select a target, attack said target with missiles and then find its way home and land. A ground pilot would be needed only to keep an eye on events and take control if there was a problem.
雷神看起来就像是从《星球大战》里走出来的东西,它的大小与小型喷气式战斗机相近,但外形像一对飞翼。这是一款隐形作战无人机。和大多数军用无人机一样,雷神也可由位于地面控制中心的飞行员通过隐蔽数据传输线来操控。不过也可以解开这条数字“栓绳”,让雷神运用人工智能自动化系统来独立思考。它可以自行起飞,寻觅路径前往作战区,选择目标并以导弹攻击,然后返航并着陆。地面上的飞行员只需留意事态发展,在出现问题时重新控制局面。

Thunder follows Lightning
电闪雷鸣

Removing the pilot, together with the systems required for a human being to fly a fighter aircraft and remain alive during the gut-wrenching manoeuvres this involves, has many advantages—not least of them, cost. A manned version of Taranis, were one to be built, would be twice the size and twice the price. The current prototype is thought to have set BAE back by around £185m ($244m). That is cheap for what is a one-off experimental prototype. The F-35, a ten-country effort led by Lockheed Martin, is reckoned to be the most expensive military weapons system in history. Some $50bn was spent developing the aircraft, which cost around $100m each.
移除了飞行员,飞机上也就不用再配备人类驾驶战斗机和在惊心动魄的飞行中保命所需的系统。这就带来了许多好处,最突出的一个就是降低成本。如果要制造出一个有人驾驶版的雷神,尺寸及造价得是现在的两倍。据信,BAE为目前这款原型机花费了1.85亿英镑(2.44亿美元),这对一架一次性试验用原型机来说并不算贵。由洛克希德·马丁牵头设计和生产、汇集十国力量的F-35被认为是史上最昂贵的军事武器系统,其研发已耗费约500亿美元,平均每架耗费约一亿美元。

At present, Taranis is not scheduled for production. It was built to explore what such a drone is capable of achieving. After a series of successful test flights in Australia (pictured), BAE’s engineers are ready to apply the lessons they have learned to their designs of combat aircraft that might take to the sky a decade or so hence.
目前雷神并没有投产计划。打造它是为了探究这样的无人机可能拥有怎样的本领。在澳大利亚完成了一系列成功的试飞后(见图),BAE的工程师已准备好将获得的经验运用到可能在约十年后升空的战斗机的设计上。

The good news for pilots is that even in drone-heavy air forces they will still have a job—though not necessarily in the air. Many will be employed supervising drones from the ground. Others, though, will indeed remain flying for, as Michael Christie, BAE’s head of air strategy, observes, in the future pilotless and piloted fighter aircraft will operate together.
对飞行员来说,好消息就是即使空军大量部署无人机,他们仍有用武之地,尽管不一定是在空中。空军仍会用大量飞行员在地面监督无人机。不过在BAE的航空战略总监迈克尔·克里斯蒂(Michael Christie)看来,其他一些飞行员还是会继续飞,因为在未来,无人战斗机和有人战斗机将会并肩作战。

A human being who can make decisions will always be needed somewhere in the system, Mr Christie reckons. And in some cases it would be best if that person was in the aerial thick of things. Just as fighter pilots now fly with wingmen alongside them, a single pilot could fly with a number of combat drones, similar toTaranis, as his “wingbots”. The drones would operate autonomously but respond to a pilot’s command. They might be used to reconnoitre an area or attack it, permitting the manned aircraft to hold back.
克里斯蒂认为,系统中总会有某个环节需要能做决策的人类,而且在某些情况下,最好还是深谙航空门道的人士。如今的战斗机飞行员会有僚机一道飞行,同理,单个飞行员可由若干类似雷神的战斗无人机伴飞,充当其“无人僚机”。这些无人机会自主操作,但也会回应飞行员的指令。它们或许可用来侦查或打击某个区域,让有人驾驶的长机退居后方。

The idea of people flying in formation with drones is being explored in several other countries, too. Last year Lockheed Martin’s research engineers converted an F-16 fighter into an unmanned drone, complete with various anti-collision systems, and flew it alongside a manned fighter to carry out ground attacks on a test range. Japan is also looking at using drone squadrons to accompany piloted aircraft. Japanese officials say the drones could undertake defensive twists and turns at g-forces so high that a human being could not withstand them, and thus be used to divert incoming missiles away from a manned fighter. China is also developing a combat drone known as Dark Sword, which might similarly be used in conjunction with manned fighter jets.
其他几个国家也在探索人类飞行员和无人机编队飞行这种想法。去年洛克希德·马丁的研发工程师将一架F-16战斗机改装成无人机并配备了多种防撞系统,让它同一架有人战斗机共同飞行,在训练场上实施地面攻击。日本也在研究部署无人机中队配合有人驾驶飞机作战。日本官员称,无人机可以做出防御性的扭转和转弯动作——所产生的重力加速度人类根本无法承受——因而可发挥为有人战斗机引开来袭导弹的作用。中国也在研发一款名叫“暗剑”的作战无人机,可能同样会与有人战斗机配套使用。

This vision of a team of full-sized drones with a single human mind in charge gives the term “squadron leader” a whole new meaning. It also requires new technology, some of which is prefigured in the F-35. This aircraft is a massive information system, in which the amount of data generated by its sensors is beyond anything a human being could take in, so the aircraft’s computers dish up only what a pilot needs to know, when he needs to know it. Information relevant to the flight at any particular time is presented on touchscreens in the cockpit and as images projected within the pilot’s helmet. His vision is improved further by cameras embedded in the aircraft’s skin, allowing him to “see” through its structure. That way he can spot anything which might otherwise be obscured—even things directly below.
这种由一个飞行员做主脑、一队全尺寸无人机伴飞的构想赋予了“飞行中队长”一词全新的含义。要实现这种设想还需要新技术,其中的某些已为F-35所用。这款飞机是一个庞大的信息系统,机上传感器生成的数据量之大,人类飞行员无法悉数领会。因此,机上的电脑仅将飞行员需要知晓的信息提炼出来,在他需要知道的时候奉上。航程中任一时刻的相关信息会显示在驾驶舱中的触摸屏上,并以图像形式投射到飞行员的头盔中。飞机蒙皮上安装的摄像头进一步增强了飞行员的视物能力,让他能够“看”穿飞机的结构。这样一来,原本有可能被遮盖住的事物也逃不过他的眼睛——即使它们位于飞机的正下方。

This information feed also extends to other manned aircraft, to reconnaissance drones and to ground forces. Instead of attacking a heavily defended position himself, an F-35 pilot could, for example, summon a missile strike from a ship. Eventually, this information feed will extend to his receiving data from, and issuing orders to, accompanying combat drones.
飞机上的数据流也会被传输给其他有人驾驶飞机、侦查无人机和地面部队。F-35的飞行员不用自己去攻击一个重兵把守的阵地,而是可以假手“他人”,比如说让一艘舰艇来发动导弹攻击。最终,飞行员将会利用这种信息传输接收来自伴飞作战无人机的数据,以及向它们发布命令。

All these extra data mean military aviators of the future are likely to be even more reliant than today’s are on their helmets. BAE has an experimental system in which almost all the physical instruments and controls in a cockpit have been replaced by virtual ones projected into the pilot’s helmet. The pilot can reach out to touch or operate these controls as if they were in physical form, with sensors recognising from his movements what he is trying to do. This could mean that when an aircraft’s flight systems need updating, it is the pilot’s helmet rather than the aircraft itself that is revised.
这样一来就会增加大量数据,因此未来的军事飞行员可能会比现在更依赖他们的头盔。BAE有一个实验系统,驾驶舱内几乎所有的实体仪表和操纵装置都被投射到飞行员头盔中的虚拟版本取代。传感器可以从飞行员的动作中识别出他的意图,因此他可以像面对实物那样,伸手触摸或操控这些虚拟装置。这也许意味着如果飞机的飞行系统需要升级,那么要加以调整的是飞行员的头盔,而不是飞机本身。

Dropping the pilot
没有驾驶员的客机?

Such possibilities raise the question of just how far automated operations could spread to civil aviation. Digital fly-by-wire systems, in which computers make the high-speed decisions needed to execute manoeuvres signalled by movements of a pilot’s joystick, have already migrated from military jets to the cockpits of civilian airliners. America, Russia and other countries are now exploring the possibility of using unmanned military planes to carry cargo and as refuelling tankers. Civilian freighters could be automated too. Airline bosses tend to think, however, that passengers would not be comfortable boarding a plane that has no pilots.
这些可能性促使人们思考自动化操作会在多大的程度上应用于民用航空。线传飞控系统已从军用飞机走入民用客机的驾驶舱:飞行员对操纵杆的操作会转化为电信号,计算机会在处理这些信号后迅速做出决策,执行这些操作。美国和俄罗斯等国家如今正在研究是否有可能将无人军用飞机用作货机和燃料补给飞机。民用货机也可实现自动化。但航空公司的老板们往往认为,没有飞行员的飞机会让乘客心里不踏实。

Yet there is a halfway house for airliners. The radio operator, navigator and flight engineer have already been made redundant by technological advances. Drone technology could see the co-pilot relieved of duty, too. Airbus, for one, is known to be looking at single-pilot operation in some circumstances. Such a system would allow a ground-based pilot to take control of an aircraft in the event of a problem. A team of seasoned pilots based in a control centre would be able to monitor a fleet of jets. Whether that would be enough to reassure the nervous traveller, even if it results in lower fares, remains to be seen.
不过民航业也可以采取一种折中方案。电报员、领航员和随机工程师已经因技术进步而退出历史舞台,无人机技术或许还会卸下副驾驶身上的担子。据了解,空客就在考虑在某些情况下仅安排一名飞行员来操控飞机。采用这样的系统,留守地面的飞行员就可在发生问题时接管飞机。让一组经验丰富的飞行员在控制中心坐镇,就可监督一个机队的状况。至于这是否会让不安的旅客打消疑虑(虽说这能让机票更便宜),还需拭目以待。