A pilot and sensor operator fly an MQ-9 Reaper from a ground control station at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. GAO has found that Air Force UAV management needs improvement. (A1C Michael Shoemaker)
Air Force UAV crews have not been managed well by the Air Force, according to a Government Accountability Office report.
The Air Force established baselines for the optimum number of UAV pilots in a unit, but those numbers did not take into account all the tasks that units perform. "Air Force officials stated that, as a result, the crew ratio is too low, but the Air Force has not updated it," said GAO. "Air Force guidance states that low crew ratios diminish combat capability and cause flight safety to suffer, but the Air Force has operated below its optimum crew ratio and it has not established a minimum crew ratio."
UAV pilots also suffer from low promotion rates. But the Air Force has not determined the factors behind this, according to GAO. Consequently, the Air Force may not be targeting actions it is taking to raise RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] pilot promotion rates at the appropriate factors, and information it has reported to Congress may not be accurate," GAO said.
Crews are so overworked that they have limited time for training and professional development. This also affects their work-life balance, which already suffers because they live at home rather than in the field. "Thus they experience combat alongside their personal lives—known as being deployed-on-station—which RPA pilots stated negatively affects their morale," said GAO.
GAO recommended that the Air Force consider using civilians as UAV pilots, as well as identifying minimum crew requirements and the factor affecting pilot promotions.