Looming RPA Operator Crisis

Roughly 70 percent of remotely piloted aircraft operators trained from the ground up to fly RPAs don’t plan to remain in the Air Force once their current terms are up, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s readiness panel on March 25. The Air Force conducted an internal survey of RPA pilots and “roughly 30 percent say they’ll stay” and take the re-enlistment bonus, Spencer said. However, “We’ve got RPA pilots that we’ve just worked to the point where we’re worried whether we can retain them or not,” he added. “The new RPA pilots are coming up to the point where they can separate” at the same time cross-trained pilots would have been allowed to return to manned cockpits. “We’re telling them they can’t go back … we are essentially at our wit’s end,” Spencer said. The Air Force is implementing a slew of initiatives to “make that enterprise healthier,” including offering fatter re-enlistment bonuses and asking the Air National Guard to volunteer to backfill Active Duty billets, he said. “It’s just an indication of what the current ops tempo is” and the fact that the RPA force has essentially been in “surge” mode since 2007, Spencer noted. (Read Are RPA Pilots the New Normal in the April 2014 issue of Air Force Magazine.)