Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operation: Lessons Learned and Implications for Future Warfare


ARLINGTON, VA (January 3, 2020)—The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to announce the release of the newest entry in its Mitchell Forum short paper series, “Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operations: Lessons Learned and Implications for Future Warfare,” by Lt Col John D. Duray, USAF, an experienced MQ-9 Reaper and U-28 pilot.

There are few military capabilities that have proved more transformational for American military power in recent years than the remote piloted aircraft (RPA), Duray writes. Since September 11, 2001, RPA have rapidly evolved from niche intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike assets into an essential tool for the global campaign against violent extremism. In particular, the use of the MQ-1 Predator and its successor the MQ-9 Reaper has mushroomed, with these aircraft amassing unprecedented flight hours and facing unrelenting demand from commanders. However, the author points out that smarter employment of these aircraft could further enhance the value they will afford in future missions.

Using contemporary vignettes of real-world RPA sorties, the author lays out key lessons for defense officials and policymakers now evaluating the future of RPA in the Air Force’s force structure, and their utility in modern war. Duray focused on key takeaways from each vignette, such as noting the perils of ignoring airpower doctrinal lessons, the need to improve mission planning practices, eliminating “platform bias” in mission areas such as close air support, and tapping RPA potential in multi-domain operations and rapid acquisition trials. “A fundamentally different approach to RPA employment and development is required if the United States is to fully realize the potential of these aircraft systems,” the author notes.

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