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Report to Congress on the Future of Unmanned Aircraft

The following is the July 18, 2022 Congressional Research Service report, Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Roles, Missions, and Future Concepts.

From the report

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have gained increased prominence in U.S. military operations. The Department of Defense (DOD) is currently developing advanced UAS, along with optionally crewed aircraft, as part of its modernization strategy. The roles and missions of UAS are relevant to Congress in authorizing, appropriating, and providing oversight to DOD and the military services for these systems.

Over the past decades, military forces have used UAS to perform various tasks, including

  • intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance;
  • close air support;
  • cargo and resupply; and
  • communications relay.

Analysts and DOD argue that UAS could replace crewed aircraft for a number of missions, including

  • aerial refueling;
  • air-to-air combat;
  • strategic bombing;
  • battle management and command and control (BMC2);
  • suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses; and
  • electronic warfare (EW).

In addition, DOD is developing several experimental concepts—such as aircraft system-of-systems, swarming, and lethal autonomous weapons—that explore new ways of employing future generations of UAS.

In evaluating appropriations and authorizations for potentially new and future UAS programs, missions, and concepts, Congress may consider the following issues:

  • the proliferation of UAS able to function as lethal autonomous weapons and its implications for global arms control;
  • costs of future UAS compared with crewed aircraft;
  • personnel and skills implications of UAS;
  • concepts of operation and employment; and
  • the proliferation of uncrewed aircraft technologies.

Download the document here.