RPAs in the Gray Zone: An Asymmetric Advantage for the Operational Commander
NAVAL WAR COLLEGE NEWPORT RI NEWPORT United States
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For over sixteen years, Remotely Piloted Aircraft RPA have been extensively used to support counter-terrorism CT and counter-insurgency COIN operations in permissive environments across the globe. Recently, the unique security environment often referred to as the gray zone has perplexed operational commanders and staffs with the ambiguous line between war and peace. It is in this zone of operations where near-peer competitors are exploiting uncertainty, and the U.S struggles to identify means to compete with those challenges. RPAs give the Joint Force Commander JFC a tangible asset to gain battlefield clarity and keep the conflict below the threshold of conventional war. Through the employment of conventional, stealth, and swarm RPAs, the JFC gains operational tools to accomplish deterrence, information dominance, and achieve mass on the gray zone battlefield. This paper explores new opportunities for current and emerging RPA technology and invalidates the argument that their use in near-peer geographic areas is of little benefit. In fact, there is a high-likelihood the world will see an increase in gray zone conflicts, further enticing adversaries to abandon escalatory actions in favor of avoiding conventional war. Integration of RPAs into gray zone conflicts requires a balancing of operational factors to develop concepts for global joint operations in gray zones, advocacy for swarm technology to achieve economy of force, and multi-role carrier-based RPAs.
- Pilotless Aircraft
- Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics