The RPA Shortfall

The lack of capacity and under manning issues in the remotely piloted aircraft enterprise did not develop because of cultural issues between manned and unmanned aircraft, but instead is the result of a dramatic increase in the operational demand without building up the infrastructure for RPAs, the head of Air Combat Command said. ACC Commander Gen. Hawk Carlisle told the Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee the RPA pilot career field is only about 83 percent manned, and the RPA pilots the command does have are only flying operational missions. The Air Force needs to expand its RPA pilot training pipeline, and increase the total number of RPA pilots so at least one quarter of the pilots can be in training as opposed to constantly in combat, Carlisle said. “There’s no dwell in the RPA enterprise,” Carlisle said. “Every mission they fly is combat.” The Air Force is in the process of doubling its RPA classes, with 290 pilots expected to be trained by the end of the year. The long-standing issues came from an increase of RPA flights from seven combat air patrols in 2007 to 65 in 2015, Carlisle said. The service’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper fleets have flown three million flight hours, 2.8 million of which have been combat missions, Carlisle said. (See also Don’t Fear the Reaper from the February issue of Air Force Magazine.) (Carlisle prepared testimony.)