Drone Pilots: We Don’t Get No Respect

I have my professional reasons to resonate with some people and I wanted to save some thoughts for posterity, as I’m sure this blog will be up for as long as I breathe. Some article written on time.com from 2012 came to my attention from a reddit post, and from there to a forum post, where user Liquid said it right:

Great discussion going on here. Let me add an alternative perspective. They said it wasn’t possible to arm RQ-1 with Hellfires. Fortunately others in USG disagreed. They said you shouldn’t arm UAVs and employ lethal fires without a fighter pilot in the seat that understood CAS and fires, so only fighter pilots should fly UAVs. They said only pilots had the airmanship required to fly UAVs. They said unless you went to pilot training and learned about airspace, radio calls and instruments, you couldn’t and shouldn’t fly UAVs. They said a fighter pilot was too valuable to fly UAVs, that it was easy, and only the worst pilots should fly them. They picked the pilots they didn’t want in their squadrons to go to UAVs. They decided that we should fly RPAs from remote locations, despite the fact you could fly remote split operations from anywhere in the world, including in major metropolitan areas where families would be happy to live. They realized there was nothing unmanned about these UAVs and changed the name to Remotely Piloted Aircraft. They killed UCAV development because they think a pilot must be in the seat, even when the pilot is the limiting factor in the aircraft. They think the next generation bomber should be manned. They decided the only way to keep pilots flying RPAs relevant was to create a companion aircraft program so RPA pilots could fly real aircraft and stay in touch with real flying, but this was not feasible because flying RPAs is not an easy part time job and there is no time. They thought it would be ok assure pilots they would go fly RPAs, then return to the cockpit, with no intention of changing the manning or accessions to actually honor that promise. They told us that 18Xs could not fly RPAs. They told us it would take years to figure out how to train non-pilots how to fly RPAs. They told us nobody would volunteer to fly RPAs. They told us the bonus for RPA pilots should be less than the bonus for real pilots. They decided that RPAs were easy and marginalized the employment of lethal weapons in combat. They actually think the RPA pilot guides the AGM-114 or GBU-49/12 to the target. They denigrated the RPA mission and those who conducted the mission, regardless of how much the joint force and civilian leadership value RPAs. They think enlisted airmen cannot fly RPAs, despite direct evidence of outstanding Army enlisted and warrant officer performance. They did not think auto takeoff and landing was a valuable capability worthy of investment, and preferred to crash aircraft during takeoffs and landings due to pilot error and insufficient training at a staggering rate, while the Army successfully employs auto takeoff and landing with a near perfect mishap prevention rate. They decided that the phrase „permissive ISR” would be used to discredit RPAs by pushing the narrative that they were not able to operate in denied airspace, while avoiding the same conversation with mobility, tankers, C2, and satellites. They forgot that we may have missions when manned aircraft will not be allowed to fly and that RPAs may be the only access we have to non-permissive environments. They developed the phrase „Pred Porn” to delegitimize the FMV value to Ground Force Commanders, Joint Force Commanders and Senior Civilian Leaders. They do not understand how RPAs integrate multi-source intelligence to accomplish national level objectives. They decided „Combat Time” for RPAs employing lethal fires in close proximity to friendly forces was not combat, but orbiting a combat support aircraft near a combat zone, with no threat of enemy fire or additional danger, was worthy of „Combat Time”. They decided combat support aircrew were eligible for Air Medals, while in no immediate danger from enemy threats, while RPA crews conducting actual combat missions were only eligible for Aerial Achievement Medals. They failed to recognize that there may be situations where manned aircraft may be denied access to airspace, not only because of the threat, but because of political considerations and the risk of being shot down in denied area. They think a pilot who practices killing people but never performs this skill in combat is more of a warrior than those who actually kill people. They decided to not fund RPAs, after reducing the number of CAPs in the first few years, they planned to go to zero CAPs so they could commit the money to other priorities. They decided to keep the RPA crew ratio below a sustainable level, crushing OPSTEMPO, morale and sustainability. They let RPA crewmembers separate early to meet short term manpower reduction goals, before their commitment was up, even from squadrons where the pilot and sensors were undermanned in that unit. They decided to not invest in RPA technology, stating and I no shit quote „every dollar we spend on MQ-9s is a dollar we can’t spend on F-35”. They are telling us they can’t fix the current RPA crew shortage. They are telling us they don’t know how to improve morale. They are telling us RPAs are not important to our nation’s defense. They think pilots with no RPA experience are qualified to command RPA squadrons, groups and wings. They use the phrase CT/COIN to marginalize the current fight and emphasize the importance of near peer competitor threats. And they will continue to recommend we stop flying RPAs so we can invest in more important weapon systems and more important missions. When will we stop letting them make these bad decisions and give this bad advice? When have they lost enough trust and confidence of our joint partners and civilian leaders? When will we realize that „they” are actually the problem and that we should not value their recommended solutions? It is time to get ISR out of ACC, to let ACC focus on what they value and what they are the best in the world at, and most importantly, stop ing up RPAs.

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