> our title:

Next-Gen UAV Operations for Irregular Warfare

> original title:

Operating Next-Generation Remotely Piloted Aircraft for Irregular Warfare

(Source: USAF Scientific Advisory Board; dated April 2011)

(Released Dec. 13, 2011 by the Public Intelligence website)


The United States Air Force has long envisioned a strategic role for remotely piloted and autonomous aircraft. As early as May 1896, Samuel Pierpont Langley developed an unpiloted heavier-than-air vehicle which flew over the Potomac River. On V-J Day in August 1945, General Hap Arnold, US Army Air Forces, observed:

“We have just won a war with a lot of heroes flying around in planes. The next war may be fought by airplanes with no men in them at all … Take everything you’ve learned about aviation in war, throw it out of the window, and let’s go to work on tomorrow’s aviation. It will be different from anything the world has ever seen.”

Since these early days, extended range, persistence, precision, and stealth have characterized remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) advancements. RPAs have been employed in multiple combat roles and increasingly contested environments. This year, for the first time in history, the President’s budget proposed a larger investment in RPAs than manned aircraft. A seemingly insatiable operational appetite for RPAs, however, has led to an Air Force manning bottleneck.

This is exacerbated by a lack of common ground stations, unsatisfactory integration with civilian and international airspace, and vulnerabilities in communications and command and control links. Further complicating efforts, yet essential in irregular warfare, are directives to minimize civilian casualties. General David Petraeus sees this need as a direct way to support a key center of gravity:

“…We must fight the insurgents, and will use the tools at our disposal to both defeat the enemy and protect our forces. But we will not win based on the number of Taliban we kill, but instead on our ability to separate insurgents from the center of gravity – the people …”

Our Panel conducted an extensive set of visits and received numerous briefings from a wide range of key stakeholders in government, industry, and academia. Taking a human-centered, evidence-based approach, our study seeks to address operational challenges as well as point to new opportunities for future RPAs. That RPAs will be a foundational element of the Air Force’s force structure is no longer debatable. The real question is how to maximize their current and future potential. Our intention is that this study will help provide both vector and thrust in how to do so in the irregular warfare context, as well as other applications.


Click here for the full report (110 pages in PDF format) on the Public Intelligence website.


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