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The U.S. Air Force's remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) have played a significant role in current operations in southwest Asia. As the inventory of RPAs increases and new sensor technologies come online in the coming years, the Air Force has an opportunity to consider additional roles that RPAs might play. Thoughtful study into these possibilities will ensure that, when the Air Force employs RPAs, they will help fill capability gaps or augment existing capabilities in more-efficient or more-effective ways. This documented briefing describes a suite of tools developed by RAND Project AIR FORCE (PAF) to help the Air Force think through future roles for RPAs. The tools evaluate platform selection and concept of operations (CONOPS) development, sensor performance against various targets, weapon effects, environmental factors, platform survivability, computational processing of data, and exploitation of sensor products. The briefing also explains how the separate analysis in each of these areas feeds into a mission-level analysis, performed with PAF's Systems and CONOPS Operational Effectiveness Model, and a campaign-level analysis using PAF's Force Structure Effectiveness model. Use of these tools and models will help clarify how future RPAs can contribute to U.S. warfighting in cost-effective ways. The tools presented herein are additionally useful for examining the effectiveness of new capabilities more broadly; examining the effectiveness of new platforms in the context of the entire intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) force posture; and evaluating the most cost-effective ISR force structure to meet future operational needs.

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The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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