What Cockpit?

The Air Force’s new Unmanned Aerial Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047 forecasts a future where unmanned drones replace manned aircraft as the dominant airpower capability USAF provides the joint military force. The service issued a brief release on its new plan last week, and, when queried, a spokesman told Daily Report there would be a rollout briefing July 23. In the plan’s executive summary, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz write of a USAF vision that would “harness increasingly automated, modular, globally connected, and sustainable multi-mission unmanned systems resulting in a leaner, more adaptable, and efficient air force that maximizes our contribution to the Joint Force.” The plan centers on development of a “family of unmanned aircraft” that range from small, man-portable vehicles to “medium ‘fighter-sized’ vehicles” and “large ‘tanker-sized’ vehicles,” and ultimately these vehicles would have “autonomous-capable operations.” One of the plan’s key assumptions is that “the range, reach, and lethality of 2047 combat operations will necessitate an unmanned system-of-systems to mitigate risk to mission and force, and provide perceive-act line execution.” That “perceive-act” is key, for the plan later states: “Future UAS able to perceive the situation and act independently with limited or little human input will greatly shorten decision time,” in effect, compressing airpower’s OODA loop—observe, orient, decide, and act. This shift to a UAV-centric force depends, of course, on requisite advances in technology, per one of the plan’s other key assumptions. (Air Force UAS Flight Plan)