The US Air Force has developed a plan to address the increasing need for pilots needed to operate unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The air force will use a small percentage of undergraduate pilot training (UPT) students for the short term and will also examine a separate training course for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Chief of the operational training division in air staff operations, Colonel Pete Lee said that the plan is to develop and validate training programmes that prepare non-UPT pilots for wartime UAS duty.

“Pilots flying unmanned aircraft today and airmen selected for the new UAS training programme are charting ground-breaking paths for the air force,” Lee Said.

Air force officials will select approximately 10% of UPT graduates to begin UAS training at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada when they graduate in October.

The air force will then conduct a training programme based on lessons learnt through the UPT to train active-duty officers to specifically fly unmanned aircraft in January 2009.

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Initial training will begin in Pueblo, Colombia, where the air force conducts introductory flight screening. UAS-specific training will then follow with full major weapons system qualification to be completed at Creech Air Force Base.

Air force deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. Daniel Darnell said that the combat contributions of unmanned aircraft systems in today’s fight have surpassed all expectations.

“The surveillance-only role of UAS has rapidly expanded to include strike, force protection, and additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions,” said Darnell.

By Daniel Garrun.