An Air Force plan to double the number of pilots flying remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) could add jobs at a handful of installations, including Langley AFB, Va.; Beale AFB, Calif.; Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.; and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
Earlier this month, Air Combat Command unveiled a $3 billion plan to add as many as 3,500 pilots, sensor operators and other personnel, and to double the number of squadrons flying MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers from eight to 17, reported the Los Angeles Times. The command also wants to create a new wing to oversee the operations.
A critical component to improving the organizational and command and control structures for remote aircraft is examining where to base new organizations to sustain the effort over the long term, said Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, according to a press release.
“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, Langley 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,” he said.
“Of course we must follow the established strategic basing decision process,” Carlisle added.
Langley is a contender because it already hosts two wings that collect and analyze the data gathered from unmanned aircraft and spy planes that patrol the world, reported the Daily Press. One — the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing — is the largest ISR wing in the Air Force.
“We continue to work with officials at Langley on any expansion they are pursuing,” said Bruce Sturk, director of federal facilities support for the city of Hampton, Va. Sturk said, however, that he has not heard any specifics about expanding the RPA mission at Langley.
“Officials there have said Langley has the space to accommodate more aircraft and operation centers. We support anything that that will add net jobs to the city, rather than see them cut,” he said.
The Air Force proposal is intended to ease the workload on drone operators that commanders have described as overworked, undermanned and underappreciated.
“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.”