US Air Force Aims To Finish New Drone Program Before the Next Global Conflict

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It may have only been two months since Andrew Hunter filled the role of Air Force Acquisitions Chief but his tenure so far has been a busy one.

First of all, two major global issues have persevered of late, making the start of this job challenging.  For one, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to complicate global operations of all kinds.  The war in Ukraine, of course, has restricted supply chains, adding more pressure to military offices in the US as well as around the world.

These two persistent complications have led directly to the US Air Force arguing with an important contractor in regards to the continued delay of an ongoing program.  Furthermore, the service continues to face tighter and tighter timelines within its plan to develop and then field new capabilities before the next major outbreak of war.

Among the Air Force’s more ambitious programs, a recent one involves a plan to develop a series of new, autonomous drones that could potentially serve as a kind of wingman for piloted fighter jets and other combat aircraft. As a matter of fact, Hunter exalts that the service is currently trying to focus more on progressing through the demonstration stage and into practical operation tests to analyze how they might work in the field.  The service is presently calling these devices collaborative combat aircraft.

Of course, a need for successful demonstrations remains among areas where the technology still needs refinement.  These areas include functions like swarming drones, and the work could include developing smaller drones that could have expansion capabilities too.  Overall, though, Hunter notes that the service will focus its efforts and energy at delivering a product that could be ready for operation in time to be used in the next war.

While there is certainly a sense of urgency to finish the project, the acquisition strategy and timeline is still under consideration.  Hunter comments it is likely the Air Force will commission several contractors—instead of a single one—to expedite the overall process by capitalizing on growing competition within the rapidly expanding autonomy core systems industry.