The Air Force will be increaseing its number of remotely piloted aircraft flights to 70 a day, service Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told reporters Monday.
Within the next year to 18 months, the service plans to increase the number of RPA flights from the current 60 daily combat air patrols (or caps), the general said.
"We will expand the ability to help the combatant commander, the joint force commander, using the assets from the Army, contractors, and the Air Force, and we're trying to get there as fast as we can," Welsh said at the State of the Air Force press briefing held at the Pentagon.
That will include a decision by the Pentagon to increase department-wide caps to 90 per day. Defense contractors would fly 10 caps a day using government-owned RPAs and would focus only on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
The rest of the flights would be provided by the Army, though Welsh said he did not know the timetable for that service's increase.
In order t To meet the increasing demand, the Air Force is attempting to train new pilots and find new places to base them.
The first class of 24 RPA pilot students just started their training, doubling the previous class size of 12.
Welsh said he believes the Air Force will train 334 total RPA pilots in 2016.
"We think we will break 300 this year, and we think by the end of 17 we'll be at 384," he said. "If we could get to 384, we will be making a big dent in the availability of pilots to fully man our crew force."
The Air Force is also looking at standing up a new wing that would be separate from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.
"Another wing needs to stand up," Welsh said. "We think we need to stand up a new dissociated operational group somewhere in the very near future, so we can give another basing option to the folks in this career field."
"All those things are still working, but the training pipeline we're making progress," he added.
Welsh said airmen are working hard to complete missions, but that the Air Force needs to lessen the stress placed upon them.
"They expand to meet the mission need, they work as hard as they need to to get the job done," the general said. "That's been the problem for the last 10 years. They're working too hard. Their battle rhythm has been unlivable over time. We have got to get the manning right in this career field. We've got to get the organization structure right. "
"We've got to get the training right," Welsh continued. "We've got to make sure that this is a career field where people can excel and endure over the long haul and be very proud members of a critical mission area because they deserve that."