UAS career field decisions, ISR organization discussed at summit

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Amaani Lyle
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
Air Force leaders met at an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance summit here Sept. 29 to discuss ISR organizational plans and further refine a blueprint for unmanned aircraft systems career fields. 

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and senior service officials came together to make decisions affecting officer and enlisted Airmen in UAS career fields. The expanding contributions of UAS operations to Air Force and joint service world-wide missions have increased UAS requirements and led Air Force officials to actively pursue new methods for developing an enduring cadre of UAS professionals. 

For officers, senior leaders gave the nod for creation of an 18X Air Force Specialty Code. The 18X career field will be considered "rated," carry a six-year active-duty service commitment, and will qualify for aircrew incentive pay. 

Future 18X pilots will earn the wings awarded Sept. 25 to the graduates of the first Beta-test class. Exactly what the 18X career field will be called is still under consideration as service officials look to better articulate what this newest mission area entails. 

There has been some growing discontent with the UAS label which seems to emphasize "unmanned" when the reality is, according to General Schwartz, "They are anything but that." The term "remote' was proposed, but the group wanted to review a wider suggestion list before deciding. They will readdress the issue at a later date. 

For enlisted, it was decided the previously created 1UOX sensor operator career field will be a subcategory under Career Enlisted Aviators. The sensor operators eventually will be compensated similarly with their CEA counterparts and will carry a three-year ADSC. 

A new set of sensor operator wings were approved. The wings are similar in appearance to standard enlisted aviator wings but with a different shield. 

The force management policy director in the office of the deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel, said addressing these fundamental personnel issues is an important first step in stabilizing this mission area. 

"The Air Force intent is to develop a professional, sustainable population of UAS Airmen as part of viable career fields that include equitable opportunities for promotion, developmental education, leadership and command," Maj. Gen. Darrell Jones said.
The personnel community has been working carefully with the career field manager to address those issues and ensure that secondary-effects of personnel changes don't adversely affect Airmen entering these new career fields. 

For example, compensating sensor operators like CEAs ensures no Airman loses money in the transition from Selective Reenlistment Bonuses to a Career Enlisted Flyer Incentive Pay-like compensation package. 

"These incentives and career field development decisions are a step in the right direction as we continue to grow the UAS mission," said Maj Gen. Marke Gibson, Headquarters Air Force director of operations. 

In addition to UAS officer and enlisted career field decisions, senior leaders discussed whether the current Air Force ISR force structure -- an agency directly reporting to the Air Staff -- is best suited for how Air Force officials conduct this growing mission. The group decided to maintain current arrangements instead of pursuing a separate ISR major command or ISR numbered air force. 

Ultimately that decision was made from looking at organizational changes still being implemented both within the Air Force -- with the standup of 24th Air Force and Air Force Global Strike Command -- and outside the Air Force, with the establishment of U.S. Cyber Command in October. 

Secretary Donley said he appreciated this opportunity to review these options and do some forward thinking on possible ways forward. 

In the meanwhile, "We need to let 24th Air Force develop and mature inside Air Force Space Command and in its relationship with the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency," Secretary Donley said. "Then we will be better able to assess what the next step might be." 

The group plans to continue to further develop ideas for future potential organizational constructs for later consideration.