Air Force sees opportunities to increase production of drones and software for attrition wars


Written by Jon Harper

Accelerating production and deployment of new autonomous systems and software could be one of the few acquisition options the Department of Defense has to preserve force and replace combat losses, says senior service official in a future war of attrition.

There have long been concerns about the ability of the Pentagon and the defense industrial base to produce platforms and regenerate other capabilities at a rate that would meet the equipment needs of the U.S. military in a war. large-scale conventional against an advanced adversary. The Ukraine-Russia conflict, in which both sides continue to fight and suffer heavy losses of personnel and equipment, has heightened these concerns as the Ministry of Defense tries to prepare for a possible conflagration with China or Russia.

“It’s absolutely concerning,” Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration, and requirements, said Tuesday during a briefing. virtual event organized by the think tank Atlantic Council. “As we watch and see where our force design is going going forward, we see an increasing likelihood that the first fait accompli type maneuver will be stalled…And what follows could be a bitter war of a lukewarm war around the globe between superpowers that would go on for years and not necessarily yield much gain.

He noted that it would be difficult to rapidly increase production of many of the US military’s “exquisite” capabilities – not just for high-end aircraft, but also for systems in other areas – to replace losses. or increase strength to meet demands. large-scale combat.

At the top of the list of capabilities that would be difficult to rapidly scale up during a conflict are highly trained and experienced personnel, he noted.

“Mass-producing large operators is difficult. And that includes not only pilots, but also special operators, key operators on the ground, at sea, in space. And evolving that into a war of attrition is going to be really, really difficult,” Hinote said.

“We have to think about what we can scale” in terms of equipment, he added.

One potential option could be drones that are cheaper and take less time to build and don’t require putting human operators at risk.

“It certainly sounds like some sort of autonomous aircraft that uses air coastlines seems like something that could evolve. I know of several manufacturers today in the United States — and I don’t count around the world with our allies and partners — who can produce these things. We would need everyone to go after that,” Hinote said.

Software is another complementary technology that Air Force officials say could be quickly acquired during conflict and enhance military capabilities.

“We’re clearly seeing DevOps evolving in ways that we’ve never seen before. So if you put those two together, you could have autonomous flight plus software, so if the autonomous vehicle is so flexible, you have a different self-driving vehicle every day because you’re loading new software into it. We could probably increase that,” Hinote said.

The Department of Defense must lay the technical foundations as well as the doctrinal and organizational foundations to enable the proliferation of these types of capabilities in modern attrition warfare, he noted.

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