Air Force faces challenges managing drone force

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General Dynamics MQ-9 Reaper

Credit: reuters

GAO report outlines trials of running drone Air Force

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As unmanned aircraft become a larger part of the Air Force a number of challenges have surfaced that could impact drone squadron efficiency.

A Government Accountability Office report out this week stated that while the Air Force has made efforts to manage its unmanned aircraftpilots but has not fully addressed issues related to: “identifying personnel requirements, recruiting and retention difficulties, the potential use of Department of Defense civilians as pilots, pilots completing their required training and moving pilots through the training pipeline.”

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“We found in our prior work that in recent years, the Air Force has not provided a sufficient number of UAS pilots to meet requirements due to several factors including most notably the increase in demand for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. As a result, the UAS workload has been performed by fewer pilots working more hours to accomplish the Air Force mission,” the GAO stated.

Specifically the report shows:

  • Personnel Requirements : GAO reported in a 2014 report that the Air Force had not accurately identified the number of UAS pilots required to accomplish its mission nor had it established a minimum number of pilots needed. As of March 2016, the Air Force had not updated personnel requirements and until it does, the Air Force will not know if it is assuming unacceptable levels of risk to accomplishing the mission and ensuring pilot safety.
  • Recruiting and Retaining : GAO in 2014 reported that the Air Force had faced challenges recruiting UAS pilots and might also face retention challenges in the future. The Air Force has taken steps to recruit more UAS pilots and offers a monthly assignment incentive pay to help retain pilots, but issues related to recruiting UAS pilots may warrant the Air Force's attention.
  • Alternative Sources : GAO reported that the Air Force had not evaluated the use of alternative personnel populations such as enlisted or civilian personnel to help it sustain required UAS pilot staffing levels. In 2015, the Air Force announced it would test using enlisted personnel but has not formally evaluated using DOD civilian personnel as UAS pilots and thus may lack information on potential options for meeting personnel requirements.
  • Training : GAO reported that the Air Force had faced challenges training its UAS pilots due to UAS pilot shortages, which impacted its ability to produce new pilots. Fully implementing GAO's recommendations pertaining to management of UAS pilots would better position the Air Force to address its training challenges.
  • Promotions : GAO reported that the Air Force monitors the promotion rates of UAS pilots but had not analyzed factors that may relate to their low promotion rates. Until the Air Force does this analysis, it is unclear whether its actions to raise promotion rates are appropriate.

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Fully implementing our recommendations would set the Air Force on a positive course toward helping ensure the high-demand UAS pilot workforce has sufficient numbers and is well trained the GAO said.

The Air Force flies the MQ-1 (Predator), the MQ-9 (Reaper), and the RQ-4 (GlobalHawk).

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