An Air Force MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial attack vehicle prepares to land after a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2009. In order to increase the number of drone pilots in the Air Force, the branch is offering $15,000 bonuses to those who sign up for five- or nine-year contracts. File Photo by Brian Ferguson/U.S. Air Force | License Photo
WASHINGTON, July 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force is attempting to lure drone pilots to the service with $15,000-per-year bonuses for those who sign five- or nine-year contracts.
A statement from the service said there's a "critical shortage of remotely piloted aircraft pilots," which it hopes the bonuses will help fix. The bonuses will go into effect in fiscal year 2016.
"In a complex global environment, RPA pilots will always be in demand," said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. "Remarkable airmen have ensured the success of the (MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper) programs. We now face a situation where if we don't direct additional resources appropriately, it creates unacceptable risk. We are working hard to put solutions in place to bring needed relief to our airmen and ensure our actions show their value to our mission."
As part of the new push for RPA pilots, the Air Force will assign 80 undergraduate pilot training graduates to RPA positions for one assignment tour. The use of new graduates in this plan is expected to last one year while the Air Force builds up the number of RPA pilots through the bonus program.
"The most critical challenge we face in this mission area is a shortage of RPA pilots and the UPT grads are the fastest way to address that shortfall without sacrificing mission capability in other platforms," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. "Actions we take today will allow the Air Force to continue to provide world-class, strike-ready (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) over the battlefield and enhance overall combat capability.
"Those selected for RPA duties will serve one tour and then be placed in manned aircraft if desired after completion of that tour," Welsh said. "This will help the Air Force achieve a healthy steady state for the RPA enterprise as soon as possible."
The Air Force also intends to invest more than $100 million for ground control stations, simulators and contract instructors.