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Posturing Tactical ISR Beyond The Umbilical Cord

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Technical Report

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Air War College, Air University Maxwell AFB United States

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Air Force Special Operations Command AFSOC has conducted special operations missions across the globe extremely well throughout the years especially when it comes to tactical ISR support with both its remotely piloted fleet of MQ-9s and manned ISR fleet of U-28As and recently acquired MC-12Ws. Each type of platform, either remotely piloted or manned, brings significant enhancements for supporting special operations missions. The well-publicized lethality and precision of the Drone Strikes in the Middle-East dominates headlines across the globe while the lesser-known contributions of AFSOCs manned ISR aircraft have also had significant impact on the war on terror. For unilateral strikes that may require long duration persistent ISR, the MQ-9s undoubtedly excel and have a monopoly on this type of mission. Remotely piloted MQ-9s can operate in contested areas without putting any aircrew at risk. Furthermore, crews who can rotate in and out of their operations facility and efficiently provide relief during their long duration missions which helps reduce crew fatigue. However, there are limitations to the MQ-9s capabilities that manned ISR platforms have been mitigating in operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa for years. When used together, each type manned and remotely piloted can capitalize on each others strengths while overcoming one anothers limitations. It is during special operations missions that require boots on the ground that we typically see both types of ISR platforms come together to support the operation. This is true when the stakes are high, in particular on a no-fail mission, where ground forces must be committed.

Subject Categories:

  • Military Intelligence
  • Pilotless Aircraft
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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