It's happening: Enlisted airmen will be allowed to fly some remotely piloted aircraft.
"There are no weapons on the RQ-4. However, there are not limitations on enlisted members employing weapons," said Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Karns. "The Air Force employs enlisted airmen on other aircraft where they are responsible for employing lethal force where necessary."
Currently, the Air Force is not considering allowing enlisted airmen to fly other RPAs, such as the MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper, Karns said in an email Thursday to Air Force Times.
"The range of duties and responsibilities for officers and enlisted pilots may overlap, but the Air Force will continue to rely on officers for mission prioritization, planning and supervision of multiple aircrews during mission execution," Karns said.
The Air Force has not had enlisted pilots since the service became independent in 1947, Karns said. During World War II, a small number of enlisted pilots served in the U.S. Army Air Forces.
"This action will make the most of the capabilities of our superb enlisted force in order to increase agility in addressing the ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] needs of the warfighter," James said in a Thursday statement. "Just as we integrated officer and enlisted crew positions in the space mission set, we will deliberately integrate enlisted pilots into the Global Hawk ISR community."
He added, however, "It is too soon to speculate on any expansion of enlisted aircrew beyond the Global Hawk program."