Cover: Supporting Combat Power Projection Away from Fixed Infrastructure

Supporting Combat Power Projection Away from Fixed Infrastructure

Published Jan 26, 2022

by James A. Leftwich, Bradley DeBlois, David T. Orletsky


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Research Questions

  1. 1. What is the largest determinant of personnel and equipment requirements for ARIUAV operations?
  2. 2. What are significant contributors to the sustainment footprint?
  3. 3. How can ARIUAV design modifications enable better logistics support concepts?

Faced with the challenge of deterring and defeating aggression by the kinds of highly capable adversaries highlighted in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) is exploring alternative weapon systems and concepts of employment that will allow it to generate combat power without being harnessed to air bases and runways that adversaries may view as high-value targets. In this report, the authors examine the logistics and sustainment aspects of an emerging operational concept for employing a family of unmanned aerial vehicles that can be launched, recovered, and sustained with minimal reliance on runways, thereby improving operational resiliency in the face of adversary targeting of runways.

The authors find that this class of weapon system—called affordable runway-independent unmanned aerial vehicles (ARIUAV)—can conduct high-volume combat operations with lower resource requirements than traditional platforms. The authors identify options for reducing the logistics and support "footprint" associated with ARIUAV operations by using nontraditional support concepts and incorporating design changes that enable reduced support requirements.

Key Findings

  • The time required to recover an ARIUAV and prepare it for its next mission determines the amount of combat power that an ARIUAV-equipped unit can deliver and is the largest determinant of personnel and equipment requirements.
  • Sustainment requirements for ARIUAV operations are significant. ARIUAV takeoff and recovery methods currently being considered by the USAF (i.e., rocket-assisted takeoff rockets and parachute/airbags) contribute significantly to the sustainment footprint.
  • Few traditional USAF capabilities (e.g., basic expeditionary airfield resources, R-11 refuelers, fuels operational readiness capability equipment) are suited for the type of expeditionary, runway-independent operations envisioned for the ARIUAV.
  • For a given turn time, alternative, nontraditional capabilities can reduce the footprint and increase resilience by enabling distributed operations.
  • Logistics and sustainment analysis early in the process of considering future force designs provides benefits to both the research and acquisition communities. It highlights the issues that are barriers to deployment and employment and affords the research community an opportunity to consider engineering design modifications around those areas. For the combat support acquisition community, it signals the types of capabilities (e.g., vehicles, munitions loaders) that they should be considering for future operations.


  • Continue to pursue a version of an ARIUAV as part of a future force design that is capable of operating decoupled from fixed infrastructure.
  • Continue to explore launch methods that are mobile, do not require a takeoff run, and eliminate the need for rocket-assisted takeoffs.
  • Pursue recovery methods that are precision guided and can reduce the time required to prepare the air vehicle for its next mission.
  • Aggressively pursue ways to shorten the high turn-time drivers.
  • Consider institutionalizing the use of nonmainstream capabilities in USAF tactics, techniques, and procedures for conducting operations absent fixed infrastructure in a manner that improves operational resiliency.
  • Actively engage the combat support research and acquisition communities in exploring alternative capabilities better suited to supporting the evolving concepts of employment for a future force.
  • Consider institutionalizing the process of analyzing the logistics and sustainment implications of deploying and employing weapon systems being considered in the future force design.

Research conducted by

This research was prepared for the Department of the Air Force and conducted by the Strategy and Doctrine Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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