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ACC charts path for remote aircrews, units

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. (AFNS) -- Air Combat Command officials announced the results of their study into the remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) community in an attempt to normalize operations and ensure long-term mission success.

Initial recommendations from the command's ongoing Culture and Process Improvement Program (CPIP) were derived from nearly 2,500 inputs from Airmen across the RPA community as well as staff analysis and budgetary planning. The result was over 140 tasks the Air Force is undertaking to improve RPA operations. The CPIP initiative supports current and previous efforts to normalize operations and is the first of its kind with this level of collaboration and top-level interest across the Air Force.

Over the years, Air Force leaders have made or pushed for substantial base-level investments in support of RPA Airmen and their families. Earlier this year, an initiative led by the secretary of the Air Force reduced RPA operations from 65 to 60 lines daily, while temporarily managing pilot assignments to stabilize the career field until the remote pilot training pipeline could be expanded. The draft 2016 National Defense Authorization Act includes language that expands the Air Force's bonus authority for remote operators and aligns RPA operator entitlements with those for other rated positions. The service is working a plan to apply that authority.

In addition, Air Combat Command has established and held the first meeting of a general officer-led working group that will provide guidance and gain consensus across commands to enhance the development and execution of a strategic vision for the RPA enterprise.

Moving forward, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the ACC commander, has directed his staff to develop detailed implementation plans for the following activities:

- Approximately double the number of RPA flying squadrons.
- Create a new wing to normalize organizational and command and control structures relative to other weapon systems.
- Standardize the squadron, group and wing structure.
- Assign RPA units in new locations to potentially include overseas locations.
- Decrease the heavy burden of persistent in garrison combat operations by increasing RPA manning and associated resources by 2,500-3,500 Airmen.
- Define career tracks for officer and enlisted RPA operators and maintainers.
- Study the promotion and professional military education selection rates for RPA officers.
- Study the feasibility of a single specialty code for RPA maintenance personnel.
- Streamline processes to better enable Reserve component forces to support the mission.

"Our RPA enterprise was born in combat and recently surpassed 20 years of service, many of which were executed at surge levels," Carlisle said. "We owe it to our Airmen to remove the daily stressors that are responsible for the challenging environment they are operating in."

An integral part to improving the organizational and command and control structures for remote aircraft is examining where to base new organizations to sustain the enterprise for the long term, according to the general.

"As we strategically analyze the RPA community, we need to take a hard look at our operating locations," Carlisle said. "Expanding our RPA basing to potential sites such as Davis-Monthan (Air Force Base, Arizona), Langley (AFB, Virginia), and a few overseas locations is a discussion we need to entertain as we stand up a new wing. We would look to take advantage of the synergy between RPA operations and command and control or intelligence processing, exploitation and dissemination nodes."

Carlisle emphasized that "of course we must follow the established strategic basing decision process."

"Resourcing these changes is not within ACC's direct control," Carlisle noted. "So we will have to work with the Department of Defense, the White House and Congress on the resources to get this done."

"RPAs have changed the game on the battlefield with their persistence and ability to both build situational awareness and close the kill chain," Carlisle said. "Ultimately, CPIP is about establishing a coherent, Air Force wide strategic plan that enables us to continue to provide this incredible capability to the joint force by moving the RPA community toward the sustainment model we've established for other Air Force weapon systems."