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​The USA Preparing for Air Battles of the Future and Considering Who Will Control UAVs

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The Air Force is studying whether drone wingmen flying alongside piloted fighter aircraft could be controlled by operators in nearby battle management aircraft or refueling tankers / Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
The Air Force is studying whether drone wingmen flying alongside piloted fighter aircraft could be controlled by operators in nearby battle management aircraft or refueling tankers / Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

These drones will fly with the F-35 and the future Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter, but the question is who will be the operator of these 'helpers'

The US Air Force is currently actively studying whether "guided" drones that will fly alongside fighter jets can be controlled by operators of nearby combat control aircraft.

Defense News reports this with reference to Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown..

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For example, the USA is currently working on building a fleet of ‘wingmate’ drones (such as the Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat or the Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie) within the framework of the Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) concept.

Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat, Defense Express
Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat

These drones will accompany future NGAD fighter jets in the sky, as well as possibly the fifth generation F-35 fighter jet, and will carry out strike, reconnaissance, surveillance, EW operations, and more.

Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie, Defense Express
Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie

At the same time, the US Air Force wants to test whether it will be possible to control these drones from aircraft such as the KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling and strategic military transport aircraft or, for example, the E-7 Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft.

According to General Brown, currently, the US Air Force wants these autonomous CCAs to accompany its future NGAD fighter, and perhaps also the F-35.

There are a lot of finer points that have to be worked out relating to the way CCAs are guided, he said, whether from the cockpit of the fighters they are accompanying or from other aircraft in the area.

For example, a swarm of such drones can be controlled by a controller from the same E-7 Wedgetail.

E-7 Wedgetail, Defense Express
E-7 Wedgetail / Photo credit: The US DoD

Also, the US Air Force is considering how to create organizations that are necessary for the operation and maintenance of these 'controlled' UAVs, as well as how to train and equip those pilots who will fly with these drones.

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