Not Playing Around

Despite negative portrayals of the Air Force’s remotely piloted aircraft community, all RPA pilots involved in a service study said the job is not like a game, and those who have conducted airstrikes have reported a large emotional impact on the decision to fire. Lt. Col Joseph Campo, the planner for joint and national security matters with the operations directorate at Air Force headquarters in Washington, D.C., conducted the yearlong study of RPA pilots and the emotional impact of their job. He discussed its results at ASC15. Overall, about 74 percent of the pilots interviewed reported an emotional reaction to their first airstrike as an RPA operator. The number stayed largely the same, despite the pilot’s previous job or any prior combat deployment, Campo said. As part of the study, pilots reported playing an average of 2.4 hours of video games per week, less than the average of 2.75 hours played for Western males. Campo said his study showed pilots have a mental connection to their jobs, despite the inherent ability of an RPA to keep a pilot away from the battle space. During his research, Campo said pilots reported 22 instances where, despite being given the authority to fire, the crews decided against it. There is an emotional connection to deciding when to employ ordnance, Campo said, especially when the pilots do decide to fire as a way to protect American or allied troops.