The Next Frontier: UAVs for Great Power Conflict | Part 1: Penetrating Strike

Arlington, VA | December 7, 2022 — The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to announce a new entry in its Research Studies series, The Next Frontier: UAVs for Great Power Conflict | Part 1: Penetrating Strike by Caitlin Lee, Senior Resident Fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and Mark A. Gunzinger, Director of Future Concepts and Capability Assessments at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Only a few years ago, the idea of the U.S. Air Force operating uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAV) with artificial intelligence (AI) in highly contested airspace seemed to many like science fiction. Fast-forward to 2022, and Air Force leaders have made the rapid fielding of next-generation UAVs, known as “autonomous collaborative platforms” (ACPs), a top priority. A confluence of events—the strategic threat posed by China, advances in AI and other key technologies, and growing evidence that these technologies can improve operational outcomes—have created a groundswell of support across the Air Force, the Department of Defense, and industry, to move this technology into the battlespace quickly.

In their report, Lee and Gunzinger examine how ACPs can contribute to a combat-credible force structure that supports the objectives of the 2022 National Defense Strategy. To ground the analysis, they convened over 40 operators, engineers, and scientists from the Air Force, Department of Defense, and industry in a 3-day workshop to consider the roles, missions, and capabilities that ACPs will need to support penetrating strikes in a war between the United States and China over Taiwan. This discussion will focus on insights gleaned from their research, and the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead as the Air Force seeks to integrate ACP technology into its force structure.

The Mitchell Institute’s Research Studies serve as an authoritative avenue for innovative, in-depth, insightful, and effective ideas and solutions for strengthening America’s aerospace power.

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Image: Design by Kristina Parrill; photos: U.S. Air Force

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