Military Embedded Systems

Air Force plans to field 1,000 UASs for "wingman" operations


March 08, 2023

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

U.S. Air Force concept of a design for a low cost unmanned combat aerial vehicle.

AURORA, Colo.  Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said that the U.S. Air Force plans to buy 200 Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter jets to pair with at least 1,000 small uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) -- known as Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCAs) -- during his address at this week's 2023 Air and Space Forces Association Warfare Symposium.

The Air Force envisions these small drone wingmen as being less expensive than traditional crewed aircraft, in some cases being inexpensive enough that the service could afford to lose them in combat, which would enable the Air Force to send CCAs on riskier missions and avoid putting human pilots in danger.

In his address, Kendall told the attendees that the CCAs “will complement and enhance the performance of our crewed fighter force structure. They will not impact planned crewed fighter inventory. One way to think of CCAs is as remotely controlled versions of the targeting pods, electronic warfare pods, or weapons now carried under the wings of our crewed aircraft.”

Kendall said that the CCAs would also potentially be used with F-35 stealth combat aircraft.

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