Enlisted airmen will now be able to fly unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawks in the Air Force, the service announced Dec. 17. The decision is the latest step intended to alleviate strain on the undermanned remotely piloted aircraft community. “Our enlisted force is the best in the world and I am completely confident they will be able to do the job and do it well,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a release. “The RPA enterprise is doing incredibly important work and this is the right decision to ensure the Air Force is positioned to support the future threat environment.” Air Force leadership has ordered Air Combat Command to develop a plan over the next six months to lay out entry requirements, training plans, career path development, delineation of duties, compensation details, and the appropriate force mix, according to the release. Enlisted airmen will not be able to fly the armed MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper. The service outlined a series of steps to improve the health and morale of the RPA community late last week, including growing the number of RPA bases and squadrons and increasing manning by up to 3,000 airmen.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.