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This report has been professionally converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) has conducted special operations missions across the globe extremely well throughout the years especially when it comes to tactical ISR support with both its remotely piloted fleet of MQ-9s and manned ISR fleet of U-28As and recently acquired MC-12Ws. Each type of platform, either remotely piloted or manned, brings significant enhancements for supporting special operations missions. The well-publicized lethality and precision of the "Drone Strikes" in the Middle-East dominates headlines across the globe while the lesser-known contributions of AFSOCs manned ISR aircraft have also had significant impact on the war on terror. For unilateral strikes that may require long duration persistent ISR, the MQ-9s undoubtedly excel and have a monopoly on this type of mission. Remotely piloted MQ-9s can operate in contested areas without putting any aircrew at risk. Furthermore, crews who can rotate in and out of their operations facility and efficiently provide relief during their long duration missions which helps reduce crew fatigue. However, there are limitations to the MQ-9s capabilities that manned ISR platforms have been mitigating in operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa for years. When used together, each type (manned and remotely piloted) can capitalize on each other's strengths while overcoming one another's limitations. It is during special operations missions that require "boots on the ground" that we typically see both types of ISR platforms come together to support the operation. This is true when the stakes are high, in particular on a no-fail mission, where ground forces must be committed. Most if not all special operations missions conducted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Africa are carried out with both manned and remotely piloted ISR aircraft when special operations forces are on the ground. This concept has been widely successful inside the declared theaters of war for over a decade. There is, however, a gap within the special operations alert posture that is ready to respond to a crisis or contingency anywhere across the globe. Currently, this alert posture includes the MQ-9 but does not have any manned ISR platforms assigned to it. An emerging crisis that pops up around the globe where a ground force is required should have the full spectrum of manned and remotely piloted aircraft ready to respond with the assault force. Especially where the satellite coverage required for the remotely piloted aircraft's data link may not be established or in the face of a capable enemy that utilizes technology to disrupt or jam the data link. Unlike remotely piloted aircraft, manned aircraft are capable of supporting tactical ISR missions without the need for a beyond line of sight data link. However, AFSOC has not postured any manned aircraft against the alert mission to mitigate the risk associated with remotely piloted aircraft's data link. AFSOC fills its alert requirements with MQ-9s that are capable of deploying onboard a cargo aircraft anywhere across the globe to support a crisis or contingency mission. As highlighted above there are no manned ISR assigned to the alert posture. This may be due to the fact that neither the U-28A nor the MC-12W is well suited to support the alert mission. This paper will evaluate the capabilities of remotely piloted aircraft like the MQ-9 and the manned aircraft in AFSOC's inventory, the U-28A and MC-12, and make recommendations to fill the void created by the lack of a manned ISR platform.
This compilation includes a reproduction of the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community.