Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh on Tuesday pushed back against the term “unmanned” in reference to remotely piloted aircraft, noting that it is “a heavily manned” enterprise, even if the airmen involved are “not all sitting on or riding in the airplane.” Remotely piloted aircraft are “a natural evolution in warfare,” using new technology to do the same things the Air Force has always done, “in a better, more comprehensive way,” Welsh said at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “Significantly less” than 10 percent of the Air Force are involved with RPAs, and Welsh said he doesn’t see that changing for another 20 or so years. But, he said, RPAs or autonomous unmanned aircraft should be used in areas where they provide benefit over a manned platform, such as in places where it is unnecessary to put a human body at risk. “We’re just past the Wright Flyer stage,” he said. “It’s going to be spectacular to see where it goes.” (See also: Spreading RPA Understanding.)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.