The US Air Force (USAF) has approved two new initiatives for the remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) career field in a bid to address issues affecting operations and the morale and welfare of airmen across the RPA enterprise.
The RPA initiatives are based on recommendations made as part of Air Combat Command's culture and process improvement programme.
Of the two initiatives, one will see the redesignation of eight RPA reconnaissance squadrons as attack squadrons, while the other authorises RPA aircrews to log combat time when flying an aircraft within designated hostile airspace, regardless of the aircrew's physical location.
US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said: "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."
The redesignation will affect the names, but not the core missions of RPA squadrons at Holloman Air Force Base (AFB), New Mexico; Whiteman AFB, Missouri; and Creech AFB, Nevada.
These units comprising of nearly 600 officers and 700 enlisted airmen, will continue to provide real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to commanders, close air support to ground troops, and post-operation battle damage assessment to senior leaders.
With redesignation, the air force is anticipated to completely switch to an all MQ-9 fleet.
Previously, squadrons consisting of MQ-9 Reaper aircraft were designated attack squadrons, while squadrons of MQ-1 Predator aircraft were designated reconnaissance squadrons.
Last year, the USAF reduced the number of combat lines to 60 from 65. It also increased incentive retention pay for pilots to $25,000, matching incentive pay for rated pilots in other airframes.
Image: The silhouette of an aircraft and airmen. Photo: courtesy of US Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay.