Keeping control and data links with UAVs in contested airspace remains a tough problem — and one that needs solving before the U.S. Air Force can develop a next-generation Reaper, the service’s intelligence chief said Oct. 28 at the C4ISR Conference, Arlington, Va.
Lt. Gen. Larry James said enemies can be expected to jam the radio and satellite communications that keep UAVs on mission and transmitting data. James said the service will need an Analysis of Alternatives, and is watching the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft program.
Speaking on the same panel, the Navy’s deputy intelligence chief said his service and James’ have similar intelligence-gathering priorities in the anti-access, area-denial environment.
James said the two would cooperate closely on such matters in the Defense Department’s AirSea battle construct.
James said that to gather intelligence in such highly contested areas, the U.S. would have to use “layers” of capabilities in the air, space and cyberspace.
David Deptula, former Air Force intelligence chief, said future surveillance aircraft would have to persist inside hostile airspace inside dense air defenses. The days where the U.S. could beat air defenses into oblivion are over; hostile forces have adapted, he said.
The stealthy, multifunctional F-22 and F-35 will be crucial intelligence platforms in future wars, Deptula said.