Does it makes sense for fighter pilots to have a ground personnel be connected to the aircraft and be able to fire weapons to help/offload work specially on stressful/critical situations? (You know is not the same being inside an airplane when you know you could go down if you get hit vs someone sitting at the desk miles away with less stress to make decisions)

I don't know if this already exists but I see these advanced fighter jets like the F-35 with so much technology and features but had never heard about something like that and I thought if this already existed or it just doesn't make sense to help the pilots in this way.


3 Answers 3


It is probably also worth noting that the 'unload pilot' part is already done, with data links providing various forms of 'fly to here' capability reducing pilot brain space needed for navigation, and things like laser designators and various HUD tools simplifying getting weapons onto target.

In fact for many weapon types the main pilot responsibility is the act of firing itself, with much design effort going into removing other steps or effort.

Purely from the practical point of view having people off the aircraft able to release weapons has some side effects:

  • Simple safety issue from pilot being startled by unexpected weapon launch leading to crash or even ejecting thinking they have been hit. Off board firer also needs to know and understand what attitude/speeds are safe for firing.
  • Makes various forms of hacking both more possible and more valuable. Detecting hacked system much harder with no human in loop going 'hey this aim point I got sent is odd'. Even hypothetical risk of a hack may impose limitations or restrictions that make system less useful (eg flying with key systems powered off, then needing 10 minutes to come online when they are suddenly required).
  • Room for many more bugs/design issues that MUST get fixed, rather than just being a mild inconvenience. A 1% chance that a target uplink corrupts the co-ordinates (eg due jamming) is bad but still usable with pilot there to sanity check, a remote fire system would need to solve part of the two generals problem to confirm target data at aircraft is in fact correct.
  • Systems need to be added to prevent ground firing etc, potentially preventing pilot using weapons when they actually need them if they fail or are misconfigured.
  • A straight 'shoot this' target uplink can be one way to aircraft, a properly configured remote fire system should be two way to allow authentication and confirmation of target, meaning aircraft operating over enemy territory is transmitting, vulnerable both to jamming and detection (or even engagement by RF homing weapons).
  • Possibly a plus depending on how you see things but splits the decision to commit murder between the pilot and the remote person pressing the red button.
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    $\begingroup$ Very good points on the side effects. $\endgroup$
    – Gabe
    Commented Mar 3 at 4:26

If you need two people to operate a combat aircraft in stressful situations, which combat by definition is, you put two people inside that aircraft. The F-14, the F-15E, the Su-30, and many other reasonably modern fighters are two-seaters, with a weapon systems officer doing just that. So are virtually all bombers and larger aircraft.

If you were to give control over weapons to people on the ground, you might as well not put a pilot inside at all. Space missions were completely unmanned as early as the 1960s. Drones clearly are controlled from the ground, but that's presumably not the spirit of your question.

In the F-35's case, its advanced technology is largely there to reduce crew workload. It's not very fast, it's not very maneuverable, it's not the F-22, but it's got more smart anything than anything out there. Its pilot experience has been criticized for data overload, though, so it might be overdoing the smart thing.

Complex avionics and smart weapons indeed take a lot of work to operate. To ease that workload, most modern fighters support some form of a data transfer cartridge, which allows waypoints, parameters, and target coordinates to be programmed on the ground. That's essentially what you propose - just done in advance.

The pilot or the WSO still needs to be the one pushing the final button. They might be under more stress, but they also are the one in the situation. In most cases, engaging a presumed hostile requires confirmation from the command first.

Once the fighting has started... stress has a purpose, it helps one make snap decisions. Or maybe our culture just finds it more acceptable when these decisions are made by the person in danger. Either way, that's the way it's done for manned aircraft.

There's also been accidents where a weapon was fired on the ground - it's not supposed to happen.
The cannon was fired by ground personnel, with destructive results.
Nowhere near as devastating as when it happens to a rocket.
That wasn't meant to happen, the safeties just failed. So generally unintended launch is a bigger concern than a pilot's failure to launch.

  • $\begingroup$ oops, totally forgot 2 seat aircrafts, makes sense. The F-16 article you mentioned looks like it was more something like a malfunction/accident and not an actual firing by someone pushing a button from outside the aircraft. Also the fb post linked from that site flags it as false information: facebook.com/Scramblemagazine/posts/… $\endgroup$
    – Gabe
    Commented Mar 2 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Gabe Yes, these are both accidents. But they do answer the question ;) They can, but it's desirable that they aren't. $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Commented Mar 2 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ As for Facebook, even its "fact-checking" can't be trusted. Belgian Air Force itself confirmed the event. The only part of the article BAF disputes is that "it was a stupid mistake" - they claim they work hard, get tired, mistakes happen, and there's nothing stupid about it. Sure, but that's... not a denial. $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Commented Mar 2 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Therac - For an F-16 gun to fire on the ground other than intended, multiple things needed to go wrong. Some mechanical, some human. $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Commented Mar 3 at 1:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Therac are you saying that this an actual feature of the F-16? Are you saying that someone on the ground can fire a weapon on an F-16 while in the air? Can you reference any other information that that is in fact possible other than that event article? (from what i red it sounds that this was a malfunction that caused this not that it is a functionality and that someone just pushed the button by accident) $\endgroup$
    – Gabe
    Commented Mar 3 at 4:37

Currently, no, munitions in a manned jet cannot be fired by a person on the ground.

In the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper, yes.

As the B-21 Raider platform matures, that will be optionally manned, and weapons deployed by crew on the ground.


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