The Air Force’s notional MQ-X remotely piloted aircraft, the stealthy, modular successor to the MQ-9 Reaper, is in a holding pattern for now, Lt. Gen Bob Otto, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, told Air Force Magazine. “We are waiting for requirements to be set by Air Combat Command,” although the “need is there” for such a platform in a timely fashion, he said following his June 9 speech in Arlington, Va., that AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies sponsored. In his speech, Otto said there is “unease” among combatant commanders about the Air Force’s limited abilities to operate ISR assets in “contested airspace.” Asked if the Air Force might buy the Navy’s UCLASS platform as the MQ-X, Otto said the timing is awkward. The Air Force’s spending priorities are the F-35 fighter, KC-46 tanker, and Long Range Strike-Bomber, he said, with a T-X trainer and an E-8 JSTARS replacement also in line for funding for the next decade. Otto suggested something as elaborate as UCLASS, which is to be stealthy enough to survive against modern air defenses, might not be affordable with so many projects competing for acquisition dollars. (For more from Otto, read For Those Hard-to-Reach Areas.)
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.