Air Force Mulls Drone Pilot Bonus to Boost Retention

The Air Force is considering a plan to offer its drone pilot force an increased bonus to remain in service at a time when Air Force leaders have said the service has struggled to keep up with expanding requests for drone combat missions.

Air Combat Command officials said the service is considering a range of options to include the bonus, but no decisions have been finalized.

"That is not confirmed," Air Combat Command spokesman Capt. A.J. Schrag said on Thursday. "We are looking at a lot of different things but there is no specific or final decisions made. All we have is a couple of discussions going on about what we could pursue to improve the manning situation."

The Air Force refers to its drone fleet as remotely piloted aircraft. RPA pilots who come from the manned aircraft force stand to receive bonuses between $15,000 and $25,000 under the Aviator Retention Pay program.

Right now, the RPA pilots who started their careers flying drones in the 18X career field are eligible for a retention bonus until next year.   The service is short unmanned aerial vehicle pilots for the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper at a time when the drones are in high demand in the campaigns against Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. The shortage was first reported Jan. 6 by The Daily Beast website, where a memo from ACC commander Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle revealed the serious concern with meeting mission demands.

"ACC believes we are about to see a perfect storm of increased COCOM (Combatant Commander) demand, accession reductions, and outflow increases that will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 enterprise for years to come," Carlisle memo said in a memo to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh.   In 2013, the Government Accountability Office reported that the Air Force had recruited 110 drone pilots against a requirement for 179.

Air Force Col. Ray Alves of Air Combat Command told Air Force Times that the active-duty Air Force currently has about 85 percent of the drone pilots it needs, but that the number is shrinking with many transferring to the Air National Guard.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com

 

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