Victory Through Vectory

The Air Force on Friday released its new “RPA Vector”—its roadmap for remotely piloted aircraft concept of operations and enabling technologies through 2038—which forecasts using pilotless aircraft for many more missions than it does now. Beyond intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, USAF sees “near-to-mid-term” uses of RPAs for aerial tanking, suppression of enemy air defenses, electronic warfare and electronic attack, rescue of injured troops, delivery of cargo, and other roles. The RPAs will range in size from hand-launched micro aircraft all the way up to huge airships and near-space craft. “We view RPAs as being like where the airplane was in WWI,” said Col. Ken Callahan, director of the RPA Capabilities office. He said RPA technology is largely in hand; now the task is to figure out “what to do with it.” The platforms themselves are almost secondary to the “enabling technologies” needed, such as greater vehicle autonomy, and the ability to control large numbers of RPAs with just a few operators, or just one, Callahan said. The next major RPA program will strive to be modular, according to the report. It also will be able to swap out payloads for particular missions, although the report cautioned that no one vehicle will be able to do them all.