Pentagon officials continue to push for the integration of remotely piloted aircraft into the national airspace as operations in Afghanistan wind down. The Air Force anticipates a shift in the strategic footprint of its RPA forces over the next three to four years, said Steven Pennington, the head of the Defense Policy Board on Federal Aviation and USAF’s director of bases, ranges, and airspace issues on the Air Staff. A great deal of the MQ-1s, MQ-9s, and RQ-4s currently operating in Southwest Asia will come back to their home stations, and active duty, Guard, and Reserve stations around the country will see an increased need for operating space. “When you bring them home you’ve got to be able to operate and train with them here,” Pennington said. That will be an acute challenge by 2015, he added.
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.