Home » Air » Congress questions low UAV pilot promotion rates

Congress questions low UAV pilot promotion rates

by Mike Hoffman on January 2, 2013

Congress wants Air Force leaders to figure out why unmanned pilots don’t get promoted as often their fighter, bomber and cargo counterparts, according to an Air Force Times report.

Lawmakers inserted into the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act a mandate to receive answers in 180 days from Air Force leader.

Air Force Times reported that the past five promotion cycles have shown that unmanned pilots have lagged behind other pilots in three of those five promotion cycles.

Air Force pilots feared that a transition to flying drones could have harmful effects on their career. Many fought against being taken out of the air and stuck on the ground.

However, the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1 Predator have played prominent roles in the wars over the past decade. Because of the demand, unmanned pilots have logged long hours from bases in Nevada, California and North Carolina.

Those long hours mean the pilots don’t have the same amount of free time to climb up the career ladder with activities such as completing Master’s degrees or traveling to Alabama for Squadron Officer School. Without those resume boosts, the UAV pilots have suffered, a pilot to Air Force Times reporter Jeff Schogol.

Share |

{ 128 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance January 2, 2013 at 4:35 pm

They dont get promoted they dont risk there lives like pilots do and or dont do as much as regular pilots nor train as much.

Reply

Ben January 2, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Oh, please.

They may not risk their lives but their decisions carry the same weight with the same consequences, they fly longer/more sorties than traditional pilots, and their training is nearly identical.

Reply

Jsmith January 3, 2013 at 7:49 am
Ben January 3, 2013 at 1:26 pm

That's what medals are meant to recognize. Rank is meant to recognize competency.

Reply

ajspades January 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Correct on the rank recognizes competency. I likely think the study will find that because RPA operators fly more hours than other pilots, that their time is more constrained to do additional duties such as office jobs, advanced education, PME, and community service. A contributing factor might also be that the variety in missions flown by RPAs is less than in other manned assets.

For example: tactical assets can get involved in Red Flags, exercises, and deployments. Cargo and tanker assets go to different countries with different crews doing different missions carrying different cargo. The RPAs? They circle around looking at things gathering intelligence and maybe are involved in strikes.

Matthew H January 4, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Um, with the exception of maybe the para-rescue guys, NOBODY in the Air Force fights….

Reply

Dennis January 9, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Doug January 11, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Jack January 5, 2013 at 12:28 am

Flying air combat is not like playing Nintendo, which is what flying a UAV is like.

Reply

A1rforce January 13, 2013 at 9:39 pm

steve January 3, 2013 at 10:00 am

Go back to the old days of flying NCO's, they proved they could fly as well as any commissioned officer, but the EGO got into the picture….so all the flying NOC's were dumped! not promoted, but dumped!!!
How can you compare a computer operator officer with that of one that actually gets in that aircraft and flies it anywhere, anytime, and in extreme dangers as well…
Congress needs to stay the hell out of this picture and let the Air Force do its job.. Geez, now if you are unhappy about promotions, just dial in your Congressman and let him play politics with it…..That would really create stable atmosphere?

Reply

tiger January 4, 2013 at 4:30 am

extreme dangers? The USAF last faced a air to air foe when? 2003 maybe? The Gulf war?
THe Taliban have how many SAMS???? Still waiting……………….

Reply

Cdownz January 3, 2013 at 3:02 pm

True, But more than half of the leaders of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are dead because of UAV's, not F-15 pilots.

Reply

SJE January 3, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Yep, and drone operators have been the ones pulling the trigger on the most high profile killings. A bad drone operator is more likely to cause some firestorm, so we need to reward the good ones.

Reply

Tiger January 4, 2013 at 4:41 am
Jim January 4, 2013 at 1:57 pm
exradardan January 6, 2013 at 3:01 pm

That is a bogus argument. When I was a B-52 Nav/Radar Nav back in the 1990s, top navigators in my wing got passed over while marginally qualified pilots got promoted easily. The navigators took the exact same risk as the pilots, and were actually in more danger than the pilots due to our downward ejection seats. The AF has an inherent bias toward promoting pilots regardless of their training or abilities, that is just the way it is. Its also one of the main reasons I got out at the end of my commitment.

Reply

blight_ January 7, 2013 at 11:13 am

Good point. If it's combat risk, everyone in the aircraft would be promoted at the same rate. The military favors certain skillsets over others, independent of risk.

Reply

F. Eugene Barber January 9, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Actually they train more than regular flying pilots.

Reply

Nicky January 2, 2013 at 5:29 pm

This is why the USAF should Reopen the Warrant officer career field for ROV/UAV Pilots. A warrant officer is more cost effective than a commissioned officer. On the plus side, it would give more opportunities for enlisted who want to fly and be ROV/UAV pilots as well.

Reply

Jsmith January 3, 2013 at 8:00 am
zak January 3, 2013 at 9:36 am

Great idea and there are many other career fields that could be done the same way so that there is a military person in the slot instead of a government civilian or a contactor.

Reply

Nicky January 3, 2013 at 1:35 pm

That's why I think the USAF needs to reopen the Warrant officer career field for ROV/UAV pilots, Helicopter pilots and technical fields. It would open up more avenues for USAF NCO's to move up the ranks to Warrant officer with those who have an associates degree. It would levitate the Top heavy Officer corp, who is being run by the fighter Mafia. On top of that a Warrant officer would save the USAF more money than a commissioned officer in terms of Lifetime cost. A warrant officer is cheaper to manage and run over an officer because for a Warrant officer, they are not concern about commanding units. They just want to do their Job and unlike a commissioned officer they are obsessed with one day commanding units. It often makes me wonder why the USAF is the only service without warrant officers. A USAF warrant officer would fit the bill for ROV/UAV pilots,Helicopter pilots and highly technical fields that an officer would not want to do. I do think that Congress should reign in on the USAF and force them to bring back Warrant officers.

Reply

tiger January 10, 2013 at 11:41 pm

So now instead of promoting UAV pilots You want to demote them to Warrant?

Reply

El Guapo January 5, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Why Warrant Officers? Army drones have proven to be significantly more effective than USAF drones, all while being operated by E-4s and E-5s in theatre. The accident rate on out of theatre piloted drones during takeoffs and landings is very high compared to Army drones where the pilot has visiual contact with the AC , especially on landings. Plus Army grunts have the added pressure of regularly seeing the grunts they support in the chow hall, they aren't thousands of miles away. CIA drone operations now prefer former enlisted soldiers over former USAF officers(recently retired ISA, I know). Congress should be working on clearing the glut of officers in every field in our bloated USAF. The "Cult of the Flight Suit" strikes again!

Reply

Justin January 6, 2013 at 4:19 pm

I agree with the the Warrant idea and/or the possiblity of having enlisted to the job. This goes back to the Air Force thinking that only pilots are smart enough to do certain jobs. Just like when TACP was created big AF thought only pilots had the understanding to direct air strikes from the ground. Now TACP is dominated by enlisted and is transitioning to dedicated non-flyer 13Ls for officers. It only took them 40 years to figure this out.

Reply

Nicky January 6, 2013 at 4:41 pm

It's why the US army, Navy, USCG and USMC got wise on keeping Warrant officers in their service. Warrants are cheaper to maintain and cheaper to manage than a commissioned officers. Warrant officers are not worried about commanding units but are concerned about just doing their job. That's why the USAF is top heavy with Officer corp and the Fighter Mafia. It's why Congress needs to force the USAF by the hands to bring back warrant officers.

Reply

Hoy Evans January 9, 2013 at 12:17 pm

i agree 100%

Reply

Edward January 9, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Hear! Hear! I full agree with the Warrant Officer program.

Reply

Mike January 9, 2013 at 1:05 pm

I agree!!!

Reply

Nick January 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm

I agree with reopening the warrant officer program. The glory boys club will always rule.

Reply

mpower6428 January 2, 2013 at 5:35 pm

The airforce officer class is getting more and more desperate to justify that budget.

give the ROV/UAV program to some ROTC class, enders game style, and let the brass fight for whats left. now thats entertainment.

Reply

Hunter76 January 2, 2013 at 6:22 pm

There's no reason to have an officer pilot drones. An obscene waste of my tax dollars.

Reply

F. Eugene Barber January 9, 2013 at 2:37 pm

A lot of civilians fly UAVs–nobody flies a drone. A drone is dumb–it just goes in and blows up. We really have not used drones for other than target practice for over 25 years.

Reply

VoixVelour January 9, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Hunter76 …. it would be a safe bet that the officerS pay TAX DOLLARS for your two cents and MORE OF THEM $$s. As Air Force is well aware, there is a whole bundle of characteristics and capabilities that combine to ensure qualified airmen, pilots and crews.

Reply

Robin January 12, 2013 at 7:27 pm

There is also no reason to have only officers pilot the combat and cargo aircraft.
The military is the last bastion of class discrimination.

Reply

Mel January 2, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Hmmm… I flew a D4d (desk, 4 drawer) during my USAF career, working 12-14 hour days as an wing CCE. One finds the time to get ahead. Yes, I laugh at the CSAF reading list, PME, advanced degrees, and the all-important "are you a member of the O' Club?" requirement that SAC demanded for a general's endorsement on an OPR.

As for who can best fly a UAV, my fellow officers and I all think 12-15 year olds have the best hand-eye coordination. They wouldn't care about promotion. They would just want high score!

Reply

Drew January 22, 2013 at 10:04 am

They need to enlist Bungie to make the killer app a launch title for the Xbox 720. Due on for X-Mas 2013. I'd put down $60 for it.

Reply

BlackOwl18E January 2, 2013 at 9:00 pm

In my opinion they shouldn't get promoted as often. They don't sacrifice nearly as much as manned pilots do by going on deployment and spending time away from their families. They don't train nearly as hard and they don't risk their lives in the hot seat of combat.

I think they should get moderately educated hardcore video gamers or enlisted personnel to pilot UAVs.

Reply

LtKitty January 3, 2013 at 12:01 am

Gimme an Xbox controller and a bag of Doritos and I'll win the war.

Reply

SJE January 3, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Gimme a break.

Most AF pilots in the last few years are well out of any danger from the Iraqi's, Afghan or Libyan forces they have engaged. Flying 20,000 ft and dropping a laser-guided bomb. Why can't that be done by a drone?

What is particularly galling is that this "risk" argument is used to justify officer rank for AF pilots. The real risks are to the Marines and ARMY aircorp flying helos and low altitude planes at the front lines. They get shot up, and killed.

Reply

JC1 January 9, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Seriously? When was the last time you landed in Afghanistan, or airdropped cargo near Troops in Contact? If you think all flying is done at 20K+, you seem to have forgotten the takeoff & landing phases of flight that every aircraft must make, of which puts you in harms way. We routinely find ourselves in-country… not just flying over the area without threat. You are smoking crack if you believe we are still not getting shot at EVERY DAY in-country!

Reply

Retriever January 10, 2013 at 10:42 am
tiger January 4, 2013 at 4:49 am

Hot seat of combat ? Where is this Phantom Air force These F-16 & F-15 guys have been facing. Most have spent 10 years doing circles in the sky waiting to get a bomb drop call. The Reapers are getting the kills. Even the B-1 & B52's have had more real action Than the Mig chasers have in 20 years.

Reply

BlackOwl18E January 4, 2013 at 5:09 am

My point is this: a pilot of a manned aircraft has to train because of the possibility of his plane going down for whatever reason (malfunction, enemy fire, bird attack, etc…). They have to train to get back from behind enemy lines and I'm sorry if I seem cold or unsympathetic, but 12 hour days of operating UAVs 5-6 days a week is still easier than a deployment overseas where the hours aren't much better and you are far away from your family and friends.

Unmanned pilots don't have to train for that scenario. To a certain degree every manned pilot takes a risk every time they fly the aircraft period. The fact that UAVs get more action in the present is irrelevant and this is only because the type of enemy we are fighting now doesn't use aircraft. Air warfare isn't dead, we just haven't had a state with a formidable air force do something stupid in a while. I am saying that promotion should be more based on the experience, the sacrifice, and the principle. Manned pilots train harder, sacrifice more, and are more exposed to danger than UAV pilots. The need for manned pilots is also not going to go away anytime soon.

Reply

blight_ January 4, 2013 at 10:39 am

Some UAV drivers are actual pilots seconded for the duty. Should they be penalized for doing so?

Surprised the AF doesn't do the warrant business that the army does.

Reply

BlackOwl18E January 4, 2013 at 6:14 pm

One of my friends is an A-10 pilot who got seconded for UAV duty and I really don't think they should be penalized for doing so because it is not their choice. From what I've seen pilots seconded for the duty are often very miserable. Any pilot of a manned aircraft would much rather be flying HIS aircraft. Like I said, I think it's a waist of a perfectly good pilot and officer to make them do such a job. They should give it to the enlisted or just hire some video gamers to do it.

Reply

Warren Gaiennie Ret January 9, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Simple Question.

Have these trained personnel have the SAME options to get the Level of Training?
If so, Why did they not get to training school?
The system works for those with the Earned Ego, But if denied the chance then how can they also earn the EGO.
Put one of the EGO Pilots in the UAV seat, Crash and Burn. Just try it, then learn to keep Mouth Shut, Open Brain. Did YOU also have to Fly the Sims BEFORE you got your New Bird????

Reply

TruckerGeek January 9, 2013 at 5:03 pm

I was in the fire department for 8 years in the Air Force and we had one of the slowest promotion rates in the Air Force. "Risk of Life" obviously has nothing to do with promotions in the Air Force, nor should it. Besides, except for combat operations, Air Force pilots do not see combat, anyway.

The article also talks about cargo pilots having better promotion rates than drone pilots, so obviously the whole argument about not being a "warfighter" is not valid. Pilots are just another job in the Air Force. The pilot cannot fly without a runway, cannot fly without fuel, cannot fly without food, etc. The pilots are more glamorous, which should have nothing to do with promotion rates.

Reply

BlackOwl18E January 11, 2013 at 12:26 pm

The Air Force is centered around aircraft and pilots so the fact that they may wrongly-fully neglect the danger firefighters experience is understandable. It's not justified, but it's understandable.

Let's say the USAF buys remote control firefighting robots that don't replace the role of human firefighters. Do you think that the operators of the firefighting robots who work with firefighters but don't experience any of the same risks or dangers should receive the same promotions? Even if you answer "yes" I doubt most firefighters would agree with that and I don't think that's fair to those that actually need to jump into the flames to save someone's life.

Reply

Hammer6 January 2, 2013 at 9:21 pm

In the Army, an NCO directs the operations of a tank, howitzer or infanry squad. Why can't an AF NCO direct a UAV?

Reply

UAVGeek January 3, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Couldn't agree more, however this is the same service that lets fighter pilots write the fitness test. 29" waist anyone?

Reply

Mike January 9, 2013 at 1:09 pm

The Army uses a lot of Warrant Officers to fly helicopters. The Air Force should use WO to fly the UAV's, and save the tax payers some money.

Reply

TruckerGeek January 9, 2013 at 5:10 pm

The real cost is the training, not the paycheck. The Air Force does not pay offices that much more than a WO (not when you are talking about $120 for a Reaper (http://nation.time.com/2012/02/28/2-the-mq-9s-cost-and-performance/), the cost of the pilot is irrelevant.

Reply

tmb2 January 9, 2013 at 7:57 pm

The difference between a CW3 with 14 years and a MAJ with 14 years is about $24,000 a year in pay. Multiply that by hundreds of pilots plus having to send fewer officers through the Academy and you can see some real dollars coming and going. Another thing to factor is training. Not the training cost, but the fact that a Warrant officer only flies. He doesn't command and spends little time on a staff. In the Army the difference between a battalion commander pilot and his senior warrant pilot could be orders of magnitude when it comes to their flight hours. I don't know how much an Air Force career keeps an officer out of the cockpit, but it's something to consider.

Reply

Dean January 2, 2013 at 9:54 pm

I know! I still haven't gotten any medals for my high scores on Doom. Plus I have 10K hours of microsoft flight sim with nothing to show for it. Not one call from the CIA.

Seriously, though, the obvious point has been made about risk and skill. Some day in the future this blog will be discussing the lack of competent manned pilots. The point where UAVs outnumber manned aircraft is on the horizon. We will want young people good on the stick, follows orders, and doesnt think too much.

Reply

TonyC January 3, 2013 at 9:08 am

Pilots don't join the Air Force to fly RC airplanes, they can do that as regular pilots in their spare time. UAV controllers should be an enlisted rating, same as for the US Army and US Navy. Then the point of this article would be moot.

Reply

SJE January 4, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Pilots join to serve the nation. So, yes, sometimes you get to fly cool new plans. Sometimes that means flying at Mach 1.5 into enemy territory on a near suicidal wild weasel mission. Other times, the nation might need them to pilot a UAV.

Reply

F. Eugene Barber January 9, 2013 at 2:40 pm

The civilian pilots must have an active FAA pilot's License and they have to KEEP it up.

Reply

Brian January 3, 2013 at 9:35 am
Sensor op January 3, 2013 at 10:20 am
NeoconBrony January 3, 2013 at 11:54 am

I dunno about the rest of the pilots, but they certainly need to promote F-22 pilots more than drone pilots, how else are they going to keep them quiet about their anoxia issues?

Reply

F. Eugene Barber January 9, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Stop calling them drones. They are NOT drones. They are UAVs. A huge difference.

Reply

TruckerGeek January 9, 2013 at 5:26 pm

The Commander in Chief calls them DRONEs, Wikipedia calls them DRONEs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unmanned_aerial_vehicle). As far back as 1977, the Air Force has used the term drone: "The word "drone" is used within the context of JCS Pub. 1 definition: "A land, sea, or air vehicle which is remotely or automatically controlled."" (http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1977/nov-dec/bigham.html).

While you may "technically" be right within the confines of the military, the civilian world has co-opted the term to refer to any unmanned aircraft.

Reply

Mr. Guy January 3, 2013 at 12:04 pm

If promotions are based on risking your life in combat (which cuts out the cargo jockeys), why don't we see more generals and colonels leading infantry squads on patrols? I thought promotions were based on how well the mission got done, not some romantic vision of danger. Our pilots may do a dangerous job, but it's pretty safe compared to the ground-pounders who are actively getting ambushed, IED'd, and generally shot at as part of the daily grind.

Reply

eprida January 3, 2013 at 12:40 pm

I agree 100%. Also the drone pilots save money, time and life. More effective combat results, the romantic love for the risk, will be part of the Aviation History. I was a pilot I know that mean for us..

Reply

SJE January 3, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Yes. On the "risk" and "expertise" logic, you should have officer status for every rifle squad leader, every helicopter pilot and every member of the special forces.
My old man walked through tropical jungles for six months as a green beret, was multilingual, and could kill you in about 1 sec with his bare hands. He rose to rank of Lt. Col. commanding an infantry battallion, with over a thousand men under his command. I respect his officer rank. I don't have nearly the same respect for someone called colonel whose combat experience is wearing a flight suit at 40,000 ft for 18 hours tops.

Reply

blight_ January 4, 2013 at 10:41 am

If rank and compensation was normalized to risk across all services, soldiers would start off at high pay which would decrease the closer they got to Florida, Bahrain, Germany and the Pentagon.

Ain't gonna happen.

There is "risk" for pilots, but there's mishap risk (fly into mountain, technical failure) and combat risk (getting shot at by the enemy). Which risk is our metric for worship?

Reply

SJE January 4, 2013 at 12:00 pm

True. Mishap risk is also pretty high for army: everything from falling off a cliff to mishandling a grenade. My ol' man's biggest problem was getting fresh recruits to take care of themselves and take the weather seriously: he had more evacs from hypothemia than anything else.

Reply

SJE January 3, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Also, many cargo jockeys are arguably in more danger than fighter pilots. Flying in and out of some remote base in Afghanistan, within the range of RPGs, short range SAM and artillery is certainly not risk free. You see the same in the Army, with plenty of hostile engagement and death among those whose mission, on paper, is just to drive a truck from Karachi to Kabul.

Reply

tiger January 4, 2013 at 4:58 am

3/4 of the USAF personnel never are in the air. They get promoted the same. Dangerous, does not mean special. The missile officer in a Silo & a cyberwarfare officer in Washington are no less promotable or valuable.

Reply

UAVGeek January 7, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Uhh hate to break it to you, but the "cargo jockeys" see more combat flying than the fighter guys do these days. Delivering supplies to a FOB via C-130, C-27 or C-17 is dangerous. Even a tactical approach into Kandahar via C-5 can be dangerous with all the heavy weapons still around.

Reply

Jay D Levine January 3, 2013 at 2:07 pm

I am a Dissabled Veteran with a Commercial/Instrument Rating, I am quite Capable of Flying a UAV/ I have prior UAV Experience ,US Army 20 Years why not give the old Soldiers a go at the controls, I even fly Microsoft Flight Sim Online,why not?

Reply

UAVGeek January 3, 2013 at 2:22 pm

I think pilots who have lost their medical would be ideal for this type of job. It's like Heinlein says "Jobs that require fighting spirit but not physical perfection"

Reply

SJE January 3, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Because that would be like admitting that the Emperor has no clothes. Personally, I think we should try to keep our disabled veterans within the forces as long as they can do a competent job, just reassign them to something they can do.

Reply

blight_ January 7, 2013 at 11:15 am

Well, it's becoming more common now, especially as prosthetics improve for the infantryman and more amputees survive their wounds.

Reply

tiger January 4, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Worked in "Avatar." Sounds good to me.

Reply

River Rat January 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm

AF NCO's at one time ran the AF UAV programs, however they became a threat to the AF Officer Corp as they would be in a position to threaten AF fighter seats, and in hance promotions. The US Army Aviation Corps is the most cost efficient organization within the military and mostly because of the Warrant Officer Corp, cheap professionial labor instead of AF primadana as in Cpt's, Maj. LTC's, Col's and in some cases BG Generals, total abuse and waste. In comparison an Apache, Blackhawk, and other RW's, is a more complicated flying fixture than a F-15, 16, 22 and 35, and etc: due to the simplicity of fly by wire technology, not thru fly by your seat. Yes I do know I used to fly RW and AB both platforms at one time or the other. USAF wake-up and give us a break save us a dollar and bring back the WO's the real professionials.

Reply

TruckerGeek January 9, 2013 at 5:38 pm

The cost of the pilot is not relevant when you are talking $120 million for an MQ9 Reaper (http://nation.time.com/2012/02/28/2-the-mq-9s-cost-and-performance/). Cost of training a pilot is also way beyond a year's salary. The cost per hour of flying any aircraft significantly exceeds the most expensive paychecks of the highest ranking members. If you want to save costs, stop getting into conflicts in other countries so we do not need the military.

Reply

Jacob January 3, 2013 at 4:57 pm

The thing about drone pilots being in high demand sounds about right. If we're keeping the same guys sitting behind the screen flying the drones all the time that's not much incentive to get them promoted and doing other stuff.

Reply

@DaveMora January 4, 2013 at 12:47 am

Is it just me? But, I am okay with Drone pilots getting less promotions especially since I know a few of them have 0 actual flight hours in actual planes. #my2cents

Reply

tiger January 4, 2013 at 5:01 am

That is where you are wrong. They do

Reply

Mastro January 4, 2013 at 9:59 am

Another argument to fold the Air Farce back into the army.

Reply

tiger January 4, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Well lets not go nuts here…… Basically the issue seems to be The UAV guys spend more time on the sticks than going to staff college. Why? Not enough of them. Without the check marks on the files , they get passed over.

Reply

F. Eugene Barber January 9, 2013 at 2:44 pm

I agree–I was in SAC during Korea and Dugout Doug ran the Air Force anyway even though it was a separate force. Roll the Navy pilots and mechs. in one Force too. Army, Air Force, Marines, and Naval Air Forcecan all be one.

Reply

BD Cooper January 4, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Peobably because the selection committee is tired of hearing how guys in lounge chairs that go home to their families every night have it tougher than guys flying actual combat missions

Reply

tmb2 January 5, 2013 at 3:04 pm

In the Army promotions are first and foremost based on filling authorized slots in the force structure. For both enlisted and officers, the promotions are insular to that particular MOS. An infantry NCO may have a higher promotion rate than a signal NCO, but that's because the infantry makes up more of the Army and needs to promote more people. Once those guidelines are set, the individual NCO must have a competitive amount of time in service, time in grade, education, and demonstrated skills and attributes through their evals. Officers must also show similar abilities both in what they've done and what the Army thinks they will be able to do for them in the future. UAVs are a continuously growing capability that isn't going away. To not promote someone because they're a UAV driver is shooting yourself in the foot years from now when you wish you had some UAV-smart guys in the upper echelons of the Air Force. The Army doesn't discriminate because you've done your time on foot, in a Bradley, or in a Stryker. I've seen officers who were specialized and well-rounded all make it to the top. The Army knows it needs them all.

Reply

tmb2 January 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm

I truly hope the Air Force isn't basing its promotions on the "sexy" jobs and who is in the cool kids club. Transport pilots are probably the most overworked officers in the Air Force and see the most danger day after day. I hear you guys about F-15 pilots being deployed and in danger of crashing into a mountain, but the UAV pilot is probably in more danger driving to work right now on the highway. Neither is in particular danger from enemy action these days and we'll probably be in a few more UAV wars before we get to that romantic dogfight the fighter pilots live for. I disagree with promoting based on risk and danger because those are temporary and based entirely on circumstance. They have nothing to do with the individual's abilities unless they find themselves in a situation where they get to demonstrate them. Simply getting shot at does not make you a good leader in any branch of service.

Reply

UAVGeek January 7, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Wrong. Here's an angle I am sure you guys probably haven't though of. There's a greater emphasis on security for UAV crews because it's likely terrorists will target them and their families at home, here in the USA. I know if I was OPFOR, I would.

Reply

tmb2 January 7, 2013 at 3:27 pm

I'm not even talking about terrorist attacks at home. I was saying a UAV pilot is more likely to die in a simple car accident than a fighter pilot patrolling the skies over Afghanistan.

Reply

F. Eugene Barber January 9, 2013 at 2:47 pm

The Air Force is still like that. I was a Staff Sgt. during the Korean War and the officers were a little different on the ground, but the flying officers were not–they might as well have worn patent leather shoes.

Reply

kbmgjb January 6, 2013 at 6:29 pm

They're not promoted as often as their "fighter, bomber, and cargo counterparts" because they aren't counterparts.

Reply

Daniel Wisehart January 6, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Just because you can fly a UAV in the Middle East from Nevada does not mean you can take it off and land it from Nevada. That work is still done on the ground by–largely civilian–crews living and working in the Middle East.

A pilot who works as an flight instructor gets just as much credit as when he is flying missions on the front. Advancement is not about risking your life but about military experience that trains you to be a leader. You don't learn to lead by bleeding.

UAV pilots should be promoted as fast or faster than airplane pilots because they are more effective as pilots in achieving our military objectives and they get more active experience in less time.

Reply

retired 462 January 8, 2013 at 8:23 am

I guess that congress doesn't have any immediate problems that require more attention (lol)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

Reply

Richard Jean January 9, 2013 at 3:03 pm

what does risk taking have to do with getting promoted? promotion has more to do with proficiency than risk taking.

Reply

rudy January 9, 2013 at 3:18 pm

As one of the original "Drone" pilots who flew "UAW's in Vietnam, I was a EW…..Not a pilot. WE controlled the Drone from a mother ship DC-130……As a retired Lt. Col. I still can sit at a consel, with a cup of coffee/cigaratte and do it as well as a young 2nd Lt……and a lot cheaper. There are thousands of retires who would love to do this..

Reply

blight_ January 9, 2013 at 4:22 pm

The whole Ryan Firebee + C-130 mothership thing has been long forgotten. Didn't think a participant would pop up on DTech of all places.

Reply

rudy January 9, 2013 at 3:18 pm

As one of the original "Drone" pilots who flew "UAW's in Vietnam, I was a EW…..Not a pilot. WE controlled the Drone from a mother ship DC-130……As a retired Lt. Col. I still can sit at a consel, with a cup of coffee/cigaratte and do it as well as a young 2nd Lt……and a lot cheaper. There are thousands of retires who would love to do this..

Reply

JR Chapman January 9, 2013 at 3:23 pm

O M G. Seriously? I guess we know the IQ of Congress!

Reply

van25B January 9, 2013 at 4:15 pm

So how do UAV pilot promotions compare to other non-pilot career groups? I would like to see that comparison, as a retired Air Force navigator.

Reply

James B. January 9, 2013 at 4:45 pm

If an enlisted man can drive a nuclear sub, why can't he fly a remote control drone?? Does not make any sense.

Reply

Threatcon January 9, 2013 at 5:42 pm

I am currently a drone pilot dual certified on both the MQ-1 and MQ-9. I have also flown T-38s as a UPT instructor pilot, have been an operational fighter pilot in both the A-10, and F-15E. To set the facts straight, most of the drones flown overseas in combat zones are launched by Air Force pilots and sensor operators not by contract employees. I myself spent 5 months dodging mortars at Balad AB, Iraq working every day for the 5 months I was there. True when flying missions from CONUS locations we are not subject to exposure to actual combat but spending time yo-yoing to a tanker in a low intensity conflict and dropping a GBU from altitude doesn't really expose you to too much danger. I will state that during takeoff and landing from the deployed airfield does expose the combat pilot to ground fire.

Reply

Threatcon January 9, 2013 at 5:42 pm

As far as pace of operations, in the four years I flew the A-10, I logged approximately 1200 hrs. In one year just flying the MQ-9 I have logged 1300 hrs. The job is demanding and never ends. We fly 24/7 every day of the year supporting troops in the field. In my estimation, for what it's worth promotions should be based on job performance, period. It is time the Air Force stops promoting personnel based on other criteria, i.e., advanced degrees which in most cases does nothing to improve combat capability, volunteerism, and a bunch of other BS.
Every job in the Air Force is important, period. If you do you job well that is what matters!

Reply

A1rforce January 18, 2013 at 12:01 am
Murph January 9, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Don't blame congress they just sign off on what's put in front of them by the promotion board. The list is backed for the last 55 years by Col. Steve Canyon mentality. As to risk, it is not a consideration. Look to the navigators and other rated crew members that have flown missions in high risk missions and have gone on to see the pilots get the promotions. LOOK TO WHO OWNS THE SHOP! It's been a pilot's Air Force since 1947. It's deja vu all over again. The UAV guys are now considered as non-pilots as the Nav' and other ratings have been in the past.

Reply

Kamuela January 10, 2013 at 4:48 am

I am not in the Air Force, and I am not familiar with the Air Forces aviation promotion system. I'm just a lowly former Marine Infantrymen. IMHO: wouldn't it be prudent for the Air Force to create a Warrant Officer program (like they had years ago) for a specialized field for UAV drivers. Now with regards to promotions between a UAV and Manned Pilots: It's obvious to me at least, in my simple way of thinking what the difference is between a UAV Pilot and a Manned Aircraft Pilot….with regards to promotion, Manned aircraft pilots should trump UAV pilots ALWAYS! manned aviators are taking the risk, they have complete out of the cockpit situational awareness and can respond immediately when they've identified threats. No doubt UAV's have there place on the battle field, it's proven It works, but there is a difference between some guy with his Ass on the line, compared to some guy sitting in a cubical out of reach of SAMs, AAA, small arms and weather…to name a few.

Reply

Kamuela January 10, 2013 at 5:18 am

Now with regards to proficiency & leadership…If I had a choice: I'd rather take my orders from someone who's proficiency & leadership experience was formed & molded having his ass on the line, experiencing the hardships, challenges, sweat, and bloodshed rather then someone who's experience was that they were proficient in all aspects of UAV operations to include engaging enemy combatants. There's is a very deadly reality between someone who's leadership ability was molded from their training, education & having their Ass on the line experience compared to someone who hasn't.
I'd rather chat with a pilot providing CAS overhead rather then someone in a cubicle at some base on the continental U.S..
There's a direct connection between the guy on the ground and the guy in the air. It makes all the difference in the world when your Ass is out there hanging and he/she is up there supporting you. I know, I've been there. Semper Fi

Reply

Kamuela January 10, 2013 at 5:32 am

P.S.

Mind you folks this is my own humble opinion: Do know that regardless what I mentioned in my last two comments, I believe anyone in uniform serving his/her country who has shown the leadership proficiency, integrity and moral character to lead and manage soldiers / airmen, should be promoted regardless what they do.

Semper Fi

Reply

INTREPID January 10, 2013 at 9:16 am

The original sin was committed when the USAF pilot union/mafia once again insisted that only someone with a union badge (wings) could touch the stick. The real question down the line is what are you going to do with the drone pilots after Afghanistan?They are now trained only to fly drones. You cannot fly them in the US.
Sounds like the same story as with navigators a few years back.
INTREPID

Reply

candor January 10, 2013 at 12:47 pm

No self respecting stove piper would want to be assigned to flying drones.

Reply

Kamuela January 10, 2013 at 2:19 pm

OOORAH to the stove-pipe boys!

Reply

VietVetSteve January 10, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Before everyone takes off on a non-stop "put-down-parade" on drones, drone pilots, etc., let me share this with you. I served in the drone reconnaissance program during the Vietnam War; I'm now a military historian. Later this year you'll see on Amazon and elsewhere an approx 500 page book on every aspect of drone recon in Southeast Asia. I will leave a sample here of what Lt. Gen John Vogt, 7th AF commander and air war boss the final three years we were in SEA, had to say about drone recon and its contribution to bombing No. Vietnam into rubble during the LINEBACKER II Christmas bombing offensive in 1972. The code name for the drones was BUFFALO HUNTER.
THE QUOTE WILL APPEAR IN THE NEXT COMMENT BOX…

Reply

BCC January 11, 2013 at 12:24 am

When has a UAV pilot ever had to eject?!? I know… It was just a joke and I couldn't pass it up. If anybody is counting votes, transition it to a Warrant program like the Army helo pilots. Any officers in now can continue as they are or pursue command routes while the new WO's learn from the outgoing O's.

Reply

VietVetSteve January 11, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Probably the most interesting aspect of this whole debate is the fact that after 40 years nothing has changed. Forty years ago AQM-34 recon drones were either flown remote control from an X-band radar in a van, or with the same system built into a DC-130. The drone pilot in the ground station was required to be a rated pilot. Conversely, the same job in the airborne launch/director platform was manned by guys with Navigator ratings. Having been an enlisted aircrew member, I am aware of the realization that anyone flying in a plane through either semi-permissive or non-permissive airspace is taking a huge risk that 95% of most Americans will never experience. My main concern is transparency, objectivity and consistency(TOC). If USAF says RPA Pilots ought to be commissioned officers, TOC must be obeyed. My concern about having different ways of treating manned vs. unmanned aircraft pilots, be it formal or informal, is you end up on a slippery slope. If we argue the point of which role has the greater threat to loss of life, how would an F-16 pilot feel if HQ decided a pilot flying an unarmed, slow MC-130 Combat Talon has greater potential for loss of life, so they ought to be promoted quicker?

Reply

guest January 17, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Flight suit inserts

Reply

BWN February 23, 2013 at 7:26 pm

As a current military pilot. . . I will go against the grain and say the RPA world is a tremendous asset, and their pilots are doing THEIR job to the best of their ability. Anyone who has truly integrated with RPAs, and benefitted from their work will agree. No, they are not on the front line. Neither is finance. There are a lot of desk jockies that make the system (albeit bloated) work. But not many of them will watch over you, relay information for you, gather intel, or kill a threat for you. If they changed the name to remotely Guided aircraft, would that help? No "pilot" confusion. They serve a purpose. . . they are part of the battlefield….why the ass pain?

Reply

Jimmie April 1, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Perhaps you are right when you say the UAV chaps dont train as hard or risk their lives remote flying the drones but should that be a detriment to their careers when the AF forces them to leave the actual cockpit? Congress is right to look into this OR the AF should not abuse its pilots this way. I like the warrant officer suggestion.

Reply

aliomalley1213 April 3, 2013 at 7:43 pm

As a future RPA pilot (oh boy!), I would like to say that as far as I know, RPA pilots have an increased risk for PTSD and their IFS washout rate is much higher than that of the typical pilot route. However, to caveat that, more pilots will washout in UPT rather than at IFS. I understand that we aren't in actual combat, but why should that impact the promotion rate? I don't want my officer career to be decided for me before I even enter it because I am "inferior" to a real pilot. Oh, and for the record, I would LOVE to fly manned planes, but because I am too short, I am stuck flying RPAs.

Reply

VietVetSteve April 3, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Hey there future RPA Pilot, I hope you do well and enjoy every minute of it! Your comment about height is a valid point, and could be a case also for someone too tall. It's been my experience you will always run into someone professionally who is unimpressed with the type of career you have and lacks the good sense to not openly display that attitude for all to see. Here's an example of what I mean, and it will be an anecdote which will appear in my book coming out this fall of the historical account of combat drone recon in the Vietnam War. The final title is not cast in stone, yet; but, it'll likely contain some reference the 99th Strat Recon Sqdrn. I'll finish the story in a 2nd comment to follow…

Reply

VietVetSteve April 3, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Our new ops officer (never flown a drone) visited us during a Vietnam drone mission one day. The radar van was cramped and you had to duck if over 6'. It was powered by a diesel generator outside. Our visitor displayed no enthusiasm and kept looking at his watch. He casually asked, referring to me being farthest from the door, "so, if the generator conks-out, how do you keep control of the drone?" I said, "I'll be 1st out the door to get it back on-line, and we're o.k. if it's less than 90 seconds. He wasn't impressed; you could tell he was thinking, "yeah…sure you can?!?" The pilot asked his boss if he wanted to fly awhile, and he did. Ten minutes later the radar was plunged in darkness and you could hear the generator spooling-down. Hell! The pilot knew better and flattened himself against the back wall, but the major was smack-dab in-the-way. I was out of my seat, put my boot in the middle of his back, climbed over and was out the door in 3 seconds! I fired-up the generator, raced inside, bypassed the radar's 3 min warm-up timer and we reaquired the drone with 25 sec left. Never doubt an NCO!

Reply

David January 3, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Actually it is not ridiculous it is factually correct. Put aside your moral objections.

Hand eye coordination. Check.
Willing to sit in front of a screen and "play a game" all day everyday. Check.
Willing play said "game" for payment in soda and chips. Check

You can argue that it would be immoral to use kids in that manner. However, you can not argue that kids possess the desired traits and are better suited (hand eye coord., likes video games for hours at a time )to play the new real life video game of war from behind a screen. Of course the psychological damage from seeing people blown apart is probably not well suited to kids but video feeds can be censored. Then again look at the games and movies they play and watch.

Most soldiers in the US are not old enough to drink for a few years when they initially join. Kids pay taxes on their reported earnings, they just can't work over a certain number of hours.

And in today's America the kids can sue to join on the grounds of age discrimination… Depending on the judge they might actually win.

Reply

tiger January 4, 2013 at 4:40 am

1. Get off your high horse about "Children."
2. It does not take 20/20 eyes, low body fat, or a BS degree from the USAFA to master a glorified Flight sim. The person who likes to play Ace Combat 5 for 12 hours is what we are looking for in a UAV driver. Your jet jocks are a different breed.

Reply

richard delancy January 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm

re-open the Warrant Officer class and let at them fly the drones

Reply

NathanS January 4, 2013 at 9:12 am

UAV missions are typically extremely long (far longer than manned missions), and are extremely tedious and boring. It's a rare event that a missile is fired – most is looking for evidence of IEDs, surveillance, and other assorted intelligence work.

Due to the nature of communication over such distances reflexes and hand-eye coordination are not really suitable for UAV work. Rather patience, analytical skills and having a level head are better attributes.

And even though there is a a wireless connection between the controller and the fire button, the psychological effects of taking another humans life are still real for UAV operators. In fact post-traumatic stress is not uncommon for UAV operators (around 1 in 20) – and definitely not something you would ever want to subject a child to.

Likewise, there has been documented blue-on-blue (friendly fire) incidences involving UAVs. Just because there's a radio link between the controller and plane (rather than wire) doesn't do anything to mitigate this risk.

Regardless of moral objections to having children behind the controls, it is also a clear violation of international law.

Reply

blight_ January 4, 2013 at 10:36 am

The question is attention to detail outside of situations where they need to drop missiles on the enemy.

You need the kid who can play Where's Waldo and look for signs of a dirt trail being disturbed, or those guys moving through the crowd on Market Day hiding guns under their robes.

This points more to the kids who play puzzle games and RPGs than first person shooters, though FPS' place a high emphasis on situational awareness in real time, which is important too.

Reply

Daniel Wisehart January 10, 2013 at 4:38 pm

I could not agree more.

Reply

tiger January 10, 2013 at 11:47 pm

We have people complaining about promotions & fairness. Your solution is to demote them lower in the food chain? Great. That will go over well.

Reply

BlackOwl18E January 11, 2013 at 12:18 pm

I've been active duty in the U.S. Navy for the past 4 years and signed my life away for the next 8 years. I completely disagree with you.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: