There’s real progress in the Air Force’s battle against what has been a chronic and widening shortage of remotely piloted aircraft operators, outgoing Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh reported Wednesday. “The RPA get-well plan has been going as well as we hoped it would go,” and there have been “dramatic changes” in the career field. “For the first time,” he said, more than 300 pilots were produced in a single year, versus previous benchmarks, in which “we were producing 188 a year and losing about 240.” This year, he said, 334 RPA pilots will be trained, and next year 384, “which is where we want to get to.” Crew work rates have declined from six days on and one off to five on and two off. “Even if we had to surge a little bit,” producing a battle rhythm “that can be sustained over time,” Welsh said. The existing shortfall of 250 RPA pilots will be halved “by the end of this fiscal year” and erased by the end of FY17, Welsh reported. After “we … get the force healthy,” the next step will be to stand up an operations group at a base other than Creech AFB, Nev., so that families aren’t “an hour and a half [drive] away” from where pilots are working 12-hour shifts, and “they can actually have a home life.” Welsh also said promotion rates for RPA specialist pilots are up for majors and O-5s, and “significantly higher” for colonels, “although that’s a small sample size.” (See also: Don’t Fear the Reaper from the February issue of Air Force Magazine.)
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.