US Air Force to outline unmanned air system doctrine to 2047

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The US Air Force expects to soon incorporate into doctrine its 80-page unmanned air systems flight plan, now nearing the end of its development.

Extending from this year until 2047 - the USAF's centenary year - the flight plan has themes of joint teaming, interoperability, interdependency, adaptability and sustainability.

Its goals include teaming between the MQ-X next-generation UAS and Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs and Lockheed F-22 Raptors for air-defence suppression.

The document also shows today's deployed unmanned capabilities evolving into air-to-air refuelling and electronic attack missions and gaining improved network connectivity. Further ahead, swarming unmanned systems would dominate the battlespace, while a hypersonic system is viewed as being at least 20 years away.

Automation is seen as key, and the USAF wants a joint open architecture for control and subsystems that would use common interfaces, but could have proprietary technology within them.

"The [General Atomics] MQ-9 Reaper is a high-capability aircraft, [but] it's limited by its integration efforts, non-standard interfaces, proprietary command and control networks, nodes, [and] a lack of open architecture," USAF UAS task force deputy director of operations Col James Gear told SMi's Unmanned Systems conference in London on 18 May.

A joint common control segment study involving the US armed services started in March, with the army will host an industry day in June in Huntsville, Alabama.

While the US Department of Defense has already released a UAS roadmap, the USAF has until now not published its own long-term plans. The secretary of the USAF was expected to see the flight plan on 18 May, and UAS task force officials hope that he will sign it into doctrine imminently.