RPA Relief Plans

Defense Secretary Ash Carter approved dropping the number of combat air patrols flown from 65 to 60 as part of an overarching effort to rebalance operational demands on remotely piloted aircraft crews. Air Force leaders hope the “CAP reset” will alleviate the surge footing in the RPA community, according to a May 20 release. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh have spoken repeatedly in the past several months on the state of the RPA force, saying USAF must find a way to balance risk in areas such as retention, training, manning, and combat capability in the RPA force. Current USAF Active Duty RPA pilot production stands at 180 pilots a year, but demand stands at 300 pilots a year, Welsh noted. USAF plans to add 100 more pilot graduates to its pipeline a year, but this won’t be an easy task because there also is a shortage of RPA instructors. For example, RPA training squadrons at Holloman AFB, N.M., are staffed at 63 percent, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. In addition to previously announced incentives, USAF is working on more funding for its RPA school house capacity, increased reserve component augmentation days, and some contracted RPA recovery efforts.