Recently, it was reported that a new study by the center for strategic and International Studies (CSIS) of the United States believes that as the U.S. air force seeks to improve its fleet size and combat capability, it should evaluate the possibility of UAV as a low-cost and easily available substitute for manned aircraft.
The report compares three studies on the future force structure of the air force. The three studies, conducted by the center for strategic and budgetary assessment (CSBA), the research institute mitre and the air force itself, generally support the retention of existing UAVs. However, CSIS reported that the low cost and high mission execution rate of UAVs such as MQ-9 “death” or RQ-4 “global Eagle” deserve more attention in future power planning.
“Unlike other aircraft in the air force, UAVs have much lower operating costs and much higher utilization, which is an advantage that we need to redouble,” said Todd Harrison, a senior analyst at CSIS In the Air Force fleet, UAVs rank among the aircraft with the strongest mission execution ability: the average mission execution rates of MQ-9 and its predecessors MQ-1 and RQ-4 “Global Hawk” are close to 90% and 75% respectively. Moreover, the operating cost of these UAVs is very low, and their flight cost per hour is among the lowest.
The research of the air force, Maite company and CSBA also provides strong support for retaining the current UAV power of the air force. The air force’s study proposes to increase the total number of combat flight squadrons to 386, including two additional UAV attack aircraft squadrons. The report also recommended 22 additional squadrons dedicated to command and control or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
The research of Maite company and CSBA advocates to retain the current MQ-9 “God of death” UAV and RQ-4 “global Eagle” UAV. CSBA also recommends the procurement of a new stealth mq-x UAV for strike, electronic attack and other missions in a counter environment.
Harrison said that one area where UAVs can perform missions in the future is aerial refueling. Another potential application area of UAVs is flying in groups or acting as “loyal wingmen” of UAVs, CSIS reported. These UAVs can be lost in the conflict without adversely affecting the mission and putting pilots at risk.
However, Harrison also pointed out that despite widespread support, UAVs may not be adopted in the budget.