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This Air Force paper deals with the issues raised by using weaponized unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in battle, exploring mission employment and doctrinal problems.

Unmanned aircraft (UA) now carry air-to-ground Hellfire missiles that give the operator the ability to not just find and track ground targets, but also strike them with great precision and lethality. Demand is high for the enhanced capabilities of armed UAs. However, there is currently no joint consensus on the development and employment of UAs.

Within the Air Force, the ways intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and ground attack assets are doctrinally resourced, tasked, and flown in support of requirements are at odds with each other. Moreover, the Army’s Warrior UA and the Air Force’s Predator have some overlapping capabilities: they operate at similar altitudes, and both carry Hellfire missiles. Operators wrestle with competing operational employment concepts: is the armed UA a strike or an ISR asset? The answer to that question is fundamental to tasking and employment, which in turn must be shaped by consistent doctrine.

In this paper, the author, who served as an expeditionary air support operation group commander in Operation Iraqi Freedom, explores some of the mission employment and doctrinal issues associated with this emerging weapons system and argues that weaponized UAs should be commanded and controlled just like close-air-support (CAS) assets. He argues that the Army’s Warrior program, while having many beneficial aspects, intersects a clearly defined Air Force mission area, which includes close air support, aerial imagery, tactical air reconnaissance, and tactical air interdiction. To avoid crowded airspace and redundant capabilities, he recommends that the Air Force be given the entire mission. He believes that whatever the outcome of the struggle over which service owns the mission area, much still must be accomplished to effectively command and control weaponized UAs in tomorrow’s battlespace. To further that effort, the author also recommends joint employment standards for UA weapons, joint agreement on the conduct of terminal control, and detailed training requirements for UA personnel. Finally, he recommends improvements in joint air-ground command and control to bring airspace management into the near-real-time realm, which can simplify coordination procedures and truly integrate joint fires and tactical assets.

This is a privately authored news service and educational publication of Progressive Management.

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