Five Imperatives for Developing Collaborative Combat Aircraft for Teaming Operations

Arlington, VA | October 6, 2022 — The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to announce a new entry in its Policy Paper series, Five Imperatives for Developing Collaborative Combat Aircraft for Teaming Operations by Heather R. Penney, Senior Resident Fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

The Air Force lacks the force capacity, lethality, and survivability needed to fight a peer-level conflict with China. To address these shortfalls, Air Force leaders are making significant decisions about the service’s future force structure and force mix based on the promise of collaborative combat aircraft (CCA) technologies.

A family of CCA fielded at scale could increase the Air Force’s combat capacity, create a more attrition-tolerant/resilient force mix, provide theater commanders with a strategic reserve for surge operations, and enable complex operations that complicate an adversary’s defenses. While this approach has great potential, current CCA developmental efforts primarily focus on mission tasks, not how CCA will collaborate with humans. This is problematic because the effectiveness of CCA in combat will be primarily driven by how well they team with humans, not just capabilities such as weapons and sensors. Teaming dynamics cannot be bolted on after fielding—they must be programmed into CCA from the start because teaming will interact with and affect other CCA software. Air Force leaders and technologists must prioritize human teaming dynamics as they aggressively pursue the development of CCA. Failing to do so risks more than sub-optimizing CCA designs; it risks losing the next war. 

The Mitchell Institute Policy Papers is a series presenting new thinking and policy proposals to respond to the emerging security and aerospace power challenges of the 21st century. These papers are written for lawmakers and their staffs, policy professionals, business and industry, academics, journalists, and the informed public.

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Note: A version of this paper was released pre-publication in September at the 2022 Air Space Cyber Conference.
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