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Targeting Johnny: Analyzing the Legality, Legitimacy, and Policy Implications of an Enemy Attack on CONUS RPA Units

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Technical Report

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Air War College Air University Maxwell AFB United States

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The United States militarys use of remotely piloted aircraft RPA has skyrocketed since 2001. Many military analysts believe this trend will continue, with unmanned systems representing the future of aerial warfare. In fact, in the near future, RPA operations may not exclusively be a virtual away game. While RPA employment to date has focused on non-state actors and terrorists, operations against other sovereign states render the US RPA infrastructure a legal and legitimate target. This papers thesis addresses this fact and the related implications of placing personnel, property, and civilians near RPA garrisons at risk.The paper first describes the key operational elements of the RPA enterprise, demonstrating it is a system of systems including air, space, and cyber operations spanning the continental US CONUS and other countries. The paper then introduces an analytical framework for determining the legality and legitimacy of target sets using the Articles of the Geneva Convention, US and international case law, and just war theory. Through this analysis, it demonstrates that the preponderance of the CONUS RPA infrastructure is both a legal and legitimate target for sovereign states engaged in conflict with America. The paper then documents that neither Department of Defense nor service policy has addressed this vulnerability by providing specific examples of the alarming degree to which US combat capability would be degraded by adversary attacks on RPA operations in the homeland. It then presents several detailed prescriptions for consideration and action. Finally, the paper concludes with a discussion of some related implications of geographically dislocated warfare.

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