The next frontier for RPAs is the capability to operate in non-permissive environments, according to a panel of industry and government experts who spoke at ASC16. “The last 25 years of war have been fought with a permissive comm environment,” said Kenneth Callicutt, director of capability and resource integration, US Strategic Command, and RPAs have met the ISR challenge. The question the Air Force must face with sophisticated potential adversaries like China and Russia, Callicutt said, is: “What are we doing to plan around not having satcom?” Making reference to the industry push to develop autonomous automobiles, he said “we need that Google effort.” Prioritizing communication systems in RPA development is one way to tackle the problem. In contrast to the current RPA fleet, where communications systems were added as a kind of afterthought, new system designs must begin with the question: “What kind of sensors do I need?” said James Gear, vice president of advanced systems, L3 Communications, Precision Engagement Systems. In this way, Callicutt said, unmanned aircraft can help “get that sensor net forward” in non-permissive environments. “The unmanned wingman can be that [sensor] grid,” he said.
More than 100 B-21s will be needed if the nation is to avoid creating a high demand/low capacity capability, panelists said on a Hudson Institute webinar. The B-21's flexibility, stealth, range and payload will be in high demand for a wide range of missions, both traditional and new.