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Air Combat Command boss Gen. Hawk Carlisle speaks during AFA's Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 25, 2016. Photo Courtesy of Dan Higgins Photography.​

Air Combat Command is looking at unmanned “escort” platforms as well as the “arsenal plane” concept and smaller, more effective munitions to put more firepower in the hands of fifth generation pilots operating deep behind enemy lines, Air Combat Command chief Gen. Hawk Carlisle said at AWS16. Talking with reporters, Carlisle acknowledged that it makes little sense for F-22s, F-35s, and Long-Range Strike Bombers to penetrate heavily-defended airspace, quickly expend a limited load of weapons, then escape to re-arm and return to the fight. He said ACC is looking at an unmanned “bomb truck or a missile truck” that would potentially also penetrate enemy defenses to make use of the 5th gen aircraft’s sensors for targeting. “Let’s say we had something stealthy that was unmanned, that carried 16 missiles and was semi-autonomous, but it penetrated … with the Raptor” and used the Raptor’s sensors “through a combat cloud” to deliver the weapons. The Raptor pilot would first use up the escort’s missiles and could then stay “in the battlespace.” ACC is working with the Air Force Research Laboratory, “the national labs, Lawrence Livermore, (and) MIT Lincoln Labs,” looking at such “manned/unmanned pairing” concepts, Carlisle said. Another approach to increasing firepower would be to miniaturize weapons so that twice as many could be carried, but with “longer range and greater kill capacity.” Today’s AMRAAM, he said, has a probability of kill that requires pilots to shoot two at a time to ensure victory “so that, by definition, cuts your payload in half.”