The flight plan presents an aggressive but realistic vision on how the Air Force must take significant steps, not only in system acquisition, but also in adaptive warfighting concepts, to integrate and institutionalize an Airmen-centric family of SUAS as exponential force multipliers across all domains.
“RPAs have been foundational to the growth of the Air Force’s globally integrated ISR enterprise, but as operating environments become more complex, budgets plateau, and technology proliferation neutralizes our asymmetric advantage, we must address future demands with a new way of thinking,” said Col. Brandon Baker, the director of RPA capabilities. “SUAS offer a way to provide more capability and capacity to the warfighter at equal or lower operational cost.”
“There is so much more that can be done with SUAS,” Baker said. “SUAS will enable new operational concepts like teaming, swarming and loyal wingman, which allow for a single operator to control large numbers of platforms.”
This is a 90+ page report. The Executive Summary alone is worth the time to download and read. I believe that it will come to be seen as a cross between a tipping point and a mea culpa.
It begins noting that after 25 years of warfare with less than anticipated budget support, the Air Force is now “the smallest, oldest and least ready force in its history… To reverse these trends within the context of fiscal reality, now is the time to capitalize on mature RPA advancements born over a decade of war and leverage the technological explosion of commercial SUAS that is upon us.”
It goes on to say:
The key fact is that historically tactical SUASs are now mature enough to augment or assume Air Force requirements with operational and strategic impact. Despite these developments, the Air Force finds itself behind the power curve having foregone the opportunity to embrace and operationalize these developments through a dedicated acquisition program, let alone an independent line of funding.
I read that as an admission that the USAF is coming to terms with the idea that it has no choice but to leverage these technologies despite the fact that there will not be an aviator in the cockpit. To which I will add, probably ever again.