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UAV pilot training struggles continue

21st March 2016 - 15:10 by Beth Maundrill in London

UAV pilot training struggles continue

The US Air Force (USAF) is continuing to fall behind with the management of its unmanned aerial system (UAS) pilots and further action is needed, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

The report found that the USAF and US Army has not implemented all of its previous recommendations, especially concerning the training of pilots, following an initial report into manning issues in 2014.

‘In April 2014, GAO reported on several issues the Air Force faced in managing its UAS pilots, and while the Air Force has taken some actions since then, it has not fully implemented GAO’s recommendations to strengthen its management,’ the 16 March report stated.

The USAF is continuing work on staffing issues which have led to a shortage of pilot instructors.

The service released a get-well plan for RPA pilots in January 2015, which included the intention to increase the number of instructors at Holloman to 100% by the end of September 2016.

While in May 2015, only 63% of the instructor positions were filled, this had increased to 84% as of February 2016.

According to the GOA report, air force officials are now aiming to reach 100% by 2017.

In an effort to increase the number of pilots, the USAF announced in February 2016 that the 558th Flying Training Squadron (FTS) at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph will start classes of 24 people, increasing from 16, in an effort to drive up the number of RPA pilots.

‘We were charged at the 12th Flying Training Wing to double the amount of RPA pilots that we were producing in the year. That is to meet the combatant commanders’ demand for this vital asset,’ explained Col David Drichta, commander 12th Operations Group, 12th Flying Training Wing, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.

‘So we embarked upon that last springtime [2015] when we got the order from the office of the secretary of defence and all the efforts in the squadron have been to that end. To double that number by the next fiscal year. We are in the ramp-up phase of making that happen.’

Officers undergo undergraduate training in order to prepare them to be sent to other air force bases for platform specific training on MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers.

‘I think for the short term, the next few years at least, we are going to have all the pieces in place to accomplish the requirement that was levied upon us. I don’t foresee that changing in that period of time. That’s for the officers,’ added Lt Col John Stallworth, commander of 558th Flight Training School.

‘We have not been tasked to grow our enlisted training that our squadron conducts. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we were asked to do that in the near future,’ Stallworth said. 

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