Air Force Chief lays out plans for dedicated UAS community
At the Air Force Association's Air & Space Conference this week, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz unveiled the service's strategy for creating a dedicated community of unmanned aerial systems operators. The plan calls for increasing the number of trained UAS operators from 300 to 1,100 over the next five years, as the Air Force tries to meet the expanding demand for C4ISR missions.
"The combat contributions of unmanned aircraft systems in today's fight have surpassed all expectations and hold even greater, greater promise for the future," said Schwartz.. "These systems provide commanders with the capabilities that play a critical role in mission success — intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions have expanded in scope and complexity. The unmanned aircraft systems now play critical roles in force protection, targeting and in precision strike. It's no surprise that Combatant Commander demand for these systems and their game-changing capabilities has skyrocketed. The Air Force is dedicated to increasing equipment, training and operational capacity as quickly as possible to help win the fight."
In order to meet its manning goals for UASs, Schwartz said, the Air Force will work toward creating a UAS operator career field within the Air Force, separate from the Air Force's pilot corps. "Ultimately, our intent is to form a dedicated cadre of professional UAS operators and chart a future course as this technology matures," Schwartz said, adding that technology would help multiply the effectiveness of the Air Force's UAS operator corps.
To create that community, the Air Force will assign 100 pilots each year from undergraduate pilot training to UAS operator training, starting this month. "This initiative will continue as long as the need exists, and is a necessary and important step toward increasing UAS capacity for the Joint fight," Schwartz said. "The program will produce pilots focused on UAS operations at the outset of their aviation careers during their first term of duty. They will join a committed force of UAS aircrew that are the backbone of this critical capability — and who are fighting this war daily."
Additionally, the Air Force is launching a trial program to pull potential UAS operators from across the Air Force separate from the pilot training program, drawing from volunteers within the Air Force's officer ranks, "including perhaps some from the retired ranks who possess appropriate skills," said Schwartz. He did not rule out reaching beyond the officer ranks in the future, saying, "No options are off the table, and we will look at all possible solutions We will do everything we can to ensure that our UAS units are properly organized, trained and equipped for today's fight, and they're prepared for future challenges."
Gen. Schwartz told the AFA attendees that the need to support the UAS will require a fundamental change in the culture of the Air Force. "No one can predict with certainty what impact ... UAS technology will have on the future of our Air Force, but there can be little doubt about the relevance and potential of unmanned systems. We must adopt a culture that fosters unhindered progress of these systems as they contribute more and more to the Joint fight. The Air Force culture must promote a strong and healthy UAS community — not a 'leper colony' or an agency of expedience."
Posted on Sep 19, 2008 at 8:12 AM