The Air Force is about to take two more major steps as part of its “get well” program for the remotely piloted aircraft enterprise—a big pay boost for RPA pilots and new operating bases for the aircraft. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, in a Wednesday briefing at the Pentagon, said no later than Oct. 1, the Air Force will approve a $35,000 pilot retention bonus for RPA pilots at the end of their active duty commitment if they remain, up from $25,000. All pilots flying RPAs today will be eligible for the bonus, she said. The service will also this fall release a list of candidate bases for possibly two new RPA operating locations: one that will host a full wing of RPA aircraft and airmen, and another hosting an operations group, James said. The service is “on its way” to having 100 percent manning at its training units, which will in turn produce more pilots to address the shortfall. (See also: Reapers and the RPA Resurgence from the August issue of Air Force Magazine.)
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.