The U.S. Air Force is changing with the times.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that for the first time ever, the U.S. Air Force is allowing enlisted personnel — and not just officers — to pilot some drones.
The decision was made due to the increased demand of drones and the U.S. Air Force's coveted intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) because of the rising rates of terrorist threats. The decision also comes in the midst of the U.S. military battling with overall budget cuts and potential layoffs, so the timing more than makes sense.
Prior to the change, the Air Force only allowed officers to be drone pilots. Air Force secretary Deborah Lee James expects the change to alleviate some of the stress and pressure that drone crews experience, operating the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper (shown below), according to the Journal.
The centerpiece of the highlighted change is James announcing that enlisted Air Force personnel could pilot the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone beginning next year. That's the Air Force's $130 million, 50-foot, remotely-piloted drone that the Journal says plays a vital role in delivering ISR worldwide. If that goes well, more enlisted personnel might be able to get more opportunities.
"As far as I'm concerned, the enlisted force can do anything, as long as they get the proper training to do it," Ms. James said during a recent interview, as reported by the Journal.
The decision to allow enlisted personnel to pilot drones comes on the heels of the Air Force meeting increased demands to train officers to operate them for use.