Congress has ordered the Air Force to increase aviation incentive pay for officers flying remotely piloted aircraft from $25,000 to $35,000.

The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress passed Nov. 10 after President Barack Obama vetoed the first version, also includes an amendment ordering the Air Force to send it a report on the RPA manning of remotely piloted aircraft and on plans how it hopes to fix any undermanning problems. that would increase aviation incentive pay for RPA officers from $25,000 to $35,000.

Obama is expected to signed the revised 2016 NDAA on Wednesday.

These moves come as the RPA community is under strain to fly surveillance and combat missions all over the world.

The Air Force is also considering the possibility of allowing enlisted airmen to fly drones, and is expected to announce its decision early next year.

The Air Force has 60 days after the NDAA's enactment to submit the RPA manning report, including:

  • -- An account of Congress wants to know how many RPA airmen the Air Force has now, and how many it needs, in addition to and projections on future staffing and requirements.
  • -- A comparison of The Air Force also must compare its RPA units' personnel policies, manpower-authorization levels and projected personnel inventory with that of manned combat aircraft systems and units.
  • -- And Congress wants a description, with a timeline, of what it would take to get RPA career field authorizations and manning levels to at least the normal manning and readiness levels of all other combat-aircraft career fields.
  • -- A Congress ordered the Air Force to list of what the Air Force is doing to increase RPA unit manning levels -- such as offering recruitment and retention bonuses, incentive pay, allowing enlisted airmen to fly drones, and increasing the weighting of RPA personnel on promotion boards —-- plusas well as an assessment of those strategies' effectiveness.
  • -- An assessment of Congress also wants the Air Force's plansto make sure it has enough capability to train new RPA personnel to meet demands.
  • -- And Congress wants an analysis of the requirements that determine determining how RPA pilots and sensor operators are selected, such as what prerequisite training or experience is necessary.
  • The Air Force is now considering the possibility of allowing enlisted airmen to fly drones, and is expected to announce its decision early next year.

MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper pilots became eligible for retention bonuses worth up to $135,000 beginning this fiscal year, the Air Force said in July. And to help beef up the ranks of drone pilots, the Air Force in August started steering 80 undergraduate pilot-training graduates directly into drone squadrons, instead of traditional manned aircraft.

The Air Force also reduced the number of daily drone combat air patrols from 65 to 60 as part of an effort to lessen the strain on pilots.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.

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