The Air Force is responsible for securing the skies of the United States of America. However, the Air Force’s somewhat sedentary position relative to their Army, Navy and Marine counterparts has given them the derogatory nickname “Chair Force.” With drones becoming an essential part of technological advancement, the Air Force is offering drone pilots $125,000 bonuses to continue service. In the words of the Godfather Don Vito Corleone, it’s an offer that they can’t refuse.
18X RPA (a rank specifically created for drone flying) pilots who have put in at least six years of service after completing undergraduate RPA pilot training will be eligible for five annual installments of $25,000. Pilots can also receive 50 percent of the bonus up front. Officers have to be active duty lieutenant colonels or below, receive RPA aviation incentive pay and cannot complete more than 25 years of active duty service before the five year bonus period ends.
The Air Force is recognizing the importance of its drone pilots. “It is important to ensure RPA pilots receive a bonus that is equitable to other pilots,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James in a press release. “Therefore, we worked closely with OSD to implement the CSRB for them and with a commensurate amount this year. These airmen are making extremely important contributions to the fight; we need these professionals to stay with us and we’re committed to retaining them in our force.”
Air Force pilots whose undergraduate flying training active duty service commitments will expire in 2017 are also eligible for the bonus. “Those pilots would receive their first payment as soon as their contracts are ratified. The remaining payments would be spread out equally through the rest of the contract term,” said Brigadier General Brian Kelly, director of military force management policy. Those who stay on for five or nine years could possibly see additional bonuses as well—up to $225,000 depending on their aviator category.
While drone strikes against terrorist targets in the Middle East have garnered controversy, where several instances have resulted in the wrongful deaths of innocent civilians, the amount of money that will be going to drone pilots is an indicator that the military is seeking to reinforce the support for drone use and keep their best pilots with them. “The cost to train and develop our Airmen is a significant investment for the Air Force,” said Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark A. Welsh III. “These incentives are cost effective methods to retain a sufficient force of skilled and experienced aviators to meet our current and future requirements.”
In addition to the retention of drone pilots, these drone pilots could also see added responsibilities moving forward. “RPA missions are increasingly critical to national security, and our ability to retain experienced RPA pilots will enable us to meet current and emergent mission requirements,” said Lieutenant General Jay Raymond, deputy chief of staff for operations.