Integration of Weaponized Unmanned Aircraft into the Air-to-Ground System
Unmanned aircraft (UA) have changed the nature of warfare. Their persistence, economy, and utility make them indispensable on the battlefield, but the lines between the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and ground attack missions of the UA are now blurred. Within the Air Force, the MQ-1 Predator does not fit seamlessly into the armed reconnaissance role. The ways ISR and ground attack assets are doctrinally resourced, tasked, and flown in support of requirements conflict with each other. The command and control (C2) structure of the theater air control system/Army air-ground system (TACS/AAGS) is not optimized to support the integration of UA operations required in tomorrow’s battlespace. The Army is fielding the weaponized Warrior UA system, which crosses service lines into what is traditionally and clearly an Air Force mission. This study examines the issues of integrating weaponized UAs into the future battlespace from the standpoint of doctrine, operational concepts, and roles and missions. To address the disconnects in UA missions and systems, the Air Force must treat weaponized UAs like close air support and merge the Predator and Warrior requirements. Merging the programs will save money, and using the centralized control/decentralized execution tenant of airpower vice organic ownership can decrease the number of UAs required to support the mission effectively. This merger will require both services to establish firm acquisition numbers based on joint requirements. The services must establish a joint acquisition strategy for interoperability, airframe and spare part commonality, and cost savings. This study also recommends establishing joint employment standards and improving C2. Both services must evaluate how they command and control weaponized UAs. The TACS/AAGS system must be modernized along the lines of a joint air-ground C2 cell to allow for near-real-time C2 and dynamic retasking of UAs to maximize employment.
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