The Air Force’s drone pilots believe there is a negative perception attached to their jobs, report low morale and receive insufficient training, a new government study found.
“Without developing an approach to recruiting and retaining [remotely piloted aircraft] pilots and evaluating the viability of using alternative personnel populations for the RPA pilot career, the Air Force may continue to face challenges, further exacerbating existing shortfalls of RPA pilots,” according to the Government Accountability Office’s report.
In response, the Air Force said it is reshaping how it recruits and retains its remotely piloted aircraft crews and is working to update its crew ratios. The service, however, rejected the suggestion that enlisted personnel fly drones.
“The Air Force, on multiple occasions, examined the use of enlisted RPA operators and repeatedly decided an officer was necessary to ensure rank is commensurate with responsibility,” the Air Force said. “The Chief of Staff of the Air Force concluded that the use of alternative personnel populations was not necessary based on a [plan] to fix accessions which is now proving successful.”
Senate leaders in Sept. 2012 asked the GAO to study the Air Force’s approach to managing the remotely piloted aircraft crews, which has tripled since 2008. The office formed focus groups at three bases: Beale Air Force Base, Calif.; Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.; and Creech Air Force Base, Nev., and found that the Air Force needs to listen to its RPA crews on how to improve the career field, evaluate alternative personnel populations to be pilots, analyze the effects of being deployed-on-station and analyze the effect of being a drone pilot on promotions.
“These individuals sacrifice so much to conduct missions vital to U.S. national security interests in a fast-paced, high stress environment every day,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said April 16 in a statement on the GAO report. “Given their mission’s importance, it is critical that the Air Force take necessary steps to ensure their success.
The GAO interviewed 10 focus groups at the three bases, which included active-duty pilots. Beale was included because it has crews that fly the RQ-4 Global Hawk, and Cannon includes airmen assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command.
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