RPA Changes

The Air Force has approved two more changes to the remotely piloted aircraft community: Redesignating Predator units as attack wings and allowing RPA pilots to log combat hours even though they are not physically in a combat zone, the service announced April 11. The changes are a part of the continuing Culture and Process Improvement Program, which aims to improve the service’s RPA community and welfare of the airmen in related career fields. “The airmen who perform this essential mission do a phenomenal job, but we learned from the RPA pilots, sensor operators, and their leaders that these airmen are under significant stress from an unrelenting pace of operations,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a release announcing the changes. Previously Air Force MQ-1B Predator squadrons were designated as reconnaissance, while MQ-9 Reaper squadrons were attack. Now squadrons with either aircraft will be designated attack squadrons, part of the service’s anticipated shift to an all-MQ-9 fleet. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh also approved the change to let pilots log combat time while flying an RPA in hostile airspace, even though the aircrew is not physically in a combat zone. “Aerial warfare continues to evolve,” Welsh said in the release. “Our great RPA airmen are leading that change. They are in the fight every day.” (See also: Don’t Fear the Reaper.)