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Old 03-01-2010, 09:31 AM   #1  
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Unhappy Drone Pilots Gaining Influence in the USAF

The Drones are coming, the Drones are coming...


Combat Generation: Drone operators climb on winds of change in the Air Force


By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 28, 2010; A01

The question, scrawled on a Pentagon whiteboard last fall, captured the strange and difficult moment facing the Air Force.
"Why does the country need an independent Air Force?" the senior civilian assistant to Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the service's chief of staff, had written. For the first time in the 62-year history of the Air Force, the answer isn't entirely clear.
The Air Force's identity crisis is one of many ways that a decade of intense and unrelenting combat is reshaping the U.S. military and redefining the American way of war. The battle against insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq has created an insatiable demand for the once-lowly drone, elevating the importance of the officers who fly them.
These new earthbound aviators are redefining what it means to be a modern air warrior and forcing an emotional debate within the Air Force over the very meaning of valor in combat.
Since its founding, the Air Force has existed primarily to support its daring and chivalrous fighter and bomber pilots. Even as they are being displaced by new technology, these traditional pilots are fighting to retain control over the Air Force and its culture and traditions.
The clash between the old and new Air Force was especially apparent in the aftermath of the 2006 strike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of the al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq.
Predator crews spent more than 630 hours searching for Zarqawi and his associates before they tracked him to a small farm northeast of Baghdad.
Minutes later, an F-16 fighter jet, streaking through the sky, released a 500-pound bomb that locked onto a targeting laser and killed Zarqawi.
The F-16 pilot, who faced no real threat from the lightly armed insurgents on the ground, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the same honor bestowed on Charles Lindbergh for the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
The Predator pilots, who flew their planes from an Air Force base outside Las Vegas, received a thank-you note from a three-star general based in the Middle East. Senior Air Force officials concluded that even though the Predator crews were flying combat missions, they weren't actually in combat.
Four years later, the Air Force still hasn't come up with a way to recognize the Predator's contributions in Afghanistan and Iraq. "There is no valor in flying a remotely piloted aircraft. I get it," said Col. Luther "Trey" Turner, a former fighter pilot who has flown Predators since 2003. "But there needs to be an award to recognize crews for combat missions."
The revolution

It is the job of Schwartz, the Air Force's top general and a onetime cargo pilot, to mediate between the old and new pilot tribes. In August 2008, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates tapped him to lead the service, the first chief of staff in Air Force history without a fighter or bomber pedigree, reflecting Gates's frustration with the service's old guard.
A quiet and introspective leader, Schwartz has turned his attention to dismantling the Air Force's rigid class system. At the top of the traditional hierarchy are fighter pilots. Beneath them are bomber, tanker and cargo pilots. At the bottom are the officers who keep aircraft flying and satellites orbiting in space.
Schwartz has also pushed to broaden the Air Force's definition of its core missions beyond strategic bombing and control of the skies. New on his list: providing surveillance imagery to ground troops waging counterinsurgencies. Today, the Air Force is flying 40 round-the-clock patrols each day with its Predator and Reaper unmanned planes, an eightfold increase over 2004.
"This is our year to look up and out . . . to ask big questions," Schwartz said in an interview. "Who are we? What are we doing for the nation's defense? . . . Where is this grand institution headed?"
One answer to those questions is taking shape at Creech Air Force Base, an hour's drive from Las Vegas, where the Air Force launched a trial program to train a first-ever group of officers with no aviation background or training to fly the Predator. Before the trial program, virtually all of the Air Force's Predator and Reaper pilots began their careers flying fighter jets, bombers or cargo aircraft and were temporarily assigned to three-year tours as drone pilots.
By 2007, the Air Force started to realize that it didn't have enough traditional pilots to meet the growing demand from field commanders for Predators and Reapers. When Gates pressed for an expedited program to train officers without an aviation background to fly drones, the Air Force initially resisted. Only a fully trained pilot could be trusted to maneuver an unmanned aircraft and drop bombs, some officials maintained.
At the rate the Air Force was moving, it would have needed a decade to meet battlefield demand. Schwartz changed the policy.
"We had a math problem that quickly led to a philosophical discussion about whether we could create a new type of pilot," said Maj. Gen. Marke F. Gibson, the director of Air Force operations and training. With Schwartz's backing, Gibson crafted a nine-month training program for officers from non-flying backgrounds, including deskbound airmen, military police officers and "missiliers."
The crash program has been controversial, particularly among traditional pilots, who typically undergo two years of training. "We are creating the equivalent of a puppy mill," complained one fighter pilot.
One of eight initial trainees was Capt. Steve Petrizzo, who joined the Air Force in 2003 hoping to fly F-16s. He was too nearsighted to fly planes, so the Air Force assigned him to a nuclear-missile base where he manned a concrete capsule 50 feet below ground, waiting for the order to launch.
Petrizzo leapt at the chance to fly the Predator. "I wanted to be in the fight," he said.
His first six months of training beginning in early 2009 focused on the basics of flying. The last few months of instruction were spent in a ground control station maneuvering a simulated Predator through video-game reproductions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The graduation ceremony for Petrizzo and his classmates raised a new set of questions for the Air Force: Should the new graduates wear the same wings as traditional pilots? Did they qualify for extra flight pay? Should they even be called pilots?
Schwartz decided the graduates were pilots. Even though they didn't leave the ground, they would receive flight pay. On the day of the ceremony, the general flew in from the Pentagon to pin a specially designed set of wings on each of the trainee's uniforms. The traditional shield at the center of their wings was festooned with lightning bolts to signify the satellite signal that connects the ground-based pilots to their planes.
"You are part of the major new Air Force development of the decade," Schwartz told the graduates.
A few days later, Petrizzo and his classmates were flying missions over Afghanistan.
Top-down changes

Lasting cultural change won't take place in the Air Force until officers who serve in these new fields rise to the top ranks, which are still dominated by fighter pilots. Some senior Predator and Reaper commanders are leaving the military because they probably won't make general. In a few weeks, Col. Eric Mathewson, who has more experience with unmanned aircraft than just about any other officer in the Air Force, will retire after 26 years.
The former F-15 pilot started working with the Predators in 2000 after he hurt his back and was unable to fly. As a squadron commander during a bloody 15-hour battle in eastern Afghanistan in 2002, Mathewson saw his Predators outperform the Air Force's most advanced fighter jets.
Dug-in Taliban insurgents had surrounded a dozen U.S. troops who were fighting for their lives. F-15s and F-16s screamed overhead. But the fast-moving planes couldn't get off a clean shot at the enemy's main bunker without also wounding the American troops.
Army commanders refused to bring in vulnerable helicopters to evacuate the dead and wounded until an enemy machine-gun nest was destroyed.
Crouched behind a cluster of boulders, the Army Ranger platoon leader radioed that one of his soldiers was bleeding to death in the snow. He needed help fast.
A pilot from Mathewson's squadron at Creech Air Force base guided his drone over the Ranger position. The Predator had never been used in a hot battle to support ground troops, and the Air Force controller embedded with the Rangers was hesitant to let it fire.
To prove its accuracy, the Predator crew launched one of its two Hellfire missiles at an empty hilltop. The hit was accurate, but it left the drone with only one missile. The pilot steadied his plane and squeezed the "pickle" button on his stick, setting loose his last missile and obliterating the Taliban machine-gun nest. "We would have all died without the Predator," the controller recalled months later to Air Force officials.
A few months after the battle, Mathewson unsuccessfully nominated several of his airmen for the Distinguished Flying Cross -- an early effort to win medal recognition for Predator crews.
Blocked from rewarding his troops with traditional battlefield honors, Mathewson searched for other ways to build camaraderie among his pilots and camera operators. Shortly after he arrived at Creech for his second Predator tour in 2006, Mathewson wrote a new mission statement for his squadrons.
"Most mission statements are long, complicated and italicized," he said. "Mine was three words: "Kill [Expletive] Heads."

A decade of drone combat has already led Mathewson to adjust his definition of valor, which is a part of almost every combat award citation. "Valor to me is not risking your life," he said. "Valor is doing what is right. Valor is about your motivations and the ends that you seek. It is doing what is right for the right reasons. That to me is valor."
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Old 03-01-2010, 11:41 AM   #2  
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I wonder about the AF too. The other services certainly have aviators in key leadership positions, but they also have reps from many other specialties.

I have trouble imaging a navy run by pointy-nose aviators without any counterbalance from the other communities...aviator culture works for aviation, but not everything else.
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Old 03-01-2010, 03:08 PM   #3  
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Interesting in so many ways:

First, Rickair, do you have trouble imagining a Navy run by surface warfare officers. No? That's because the entire purpose of the Navy is to support the SWO and the SWO mission. The core mission of Navy Air is to support the Navy's surface warfare purpose - the purpose of Marine Air is to support the infantry. Would you imagine the Navy would be better if it were run by supply clerks or anyone else not familiar with the details of HOW the Navy fights its core mission, or the Marines run by someone other than infantry?

The USAF exists to support air dominance, space dominance, and the ability to deploy and fight anywhere on the globe within hours. The purpose of the USAF IS aviation in one form or another. That's why you can't equate the Navy, Marines, Army, USAF as far as who runs it - you need to consider what the CORE mission is. In reality, combat pilots/crews should run a combat force. To say the USAF existed to support fighter and bomber pilots is akin to the c**p we hear in politics - appealing to the ignorant masses.

The reason why the USAF insisted on rated aviators flying these aircraft is because they are 10,000lb pieces of metal armed with live ordnance being operated in controlled airspace, in the same ROZ stacks as manned assets such as bombers and fighters (i.e. in close proximity to those aircraft), employing deadly force in close proximity to US forces, etc, etc - ALL things NONE of the other UAVs are doing (for all of you "but, the Army is doing this" people who have not actually worked with the Army people actually doing this or that or seen what they do). In this war, whether you like it or not, there is no distinguishing the missions of F-15E's, F-16's, and MQ-9's except for sortie duration - and in this war the aircraft with the longer duration is the better asset. All of the missions are exactly the same, except the F-16's like to call their missions NT-ISR vs ISR. If non-rated guys can fly one mission, why can't they fly the other?

The reporter does not report that new CSAF was chosen because he is the prtotype new USAF officer - a yes man. His boss says he wants more bodies, and the new CSAF says "no problem, we can fill the pipeline with bodies" and the person who pays the price is the soldier on the ground. AETC gave up producing quality products long ago (can't wash them out - can't not produce the numbers), and this follows the same route. The CSAF did fly in to pin these guy's wings on. As a matter of fact, several generals came in relative to this program - some even talked EXCLUSIVELY to the Beta students to see how the program was going - but NOT ONE talked to the IP's in private to get their take. Regardless of your stance or experience with UAVs, this fact should bother you.

Capt Petrizzo is, in fact, not flying sorties over Afghan on his own and neither are any of the other Beta candidates. They are all just starting a CMR program that is about 6 times longer than previous, and requires increased supervision after CMR. All told, they will require one on one supervision for over 6 months. They will also have to be relieved if the situation starts going dynamic - so they will still need a qualified body on hands at all times. Not much of a proper relief of manpower. The reporter also did not write that the training evals from these guys courses stated that their BEST guy was worse than anyone previously seen in the history of the RTU - the evals did say that by the way.

For those that understand, what sets aviators apart from most is decision-making and judgment. Pilots make more decisions per day, the decisions are usually more critical in nature, and the timeframe for action is less than most people all day. That is gained in experience. UPT grads don't have it after even 1+ year of training. What is critical when supporting troops on the ground and deciding if/when to employ air-surface ordnance is decision-making and judgment. Beta candidates won't have it after 1+ year of training. In combat, when you are the one on the ground, watching the bombs fly home is not the "safer course of action". To the squadron commanders with these Beta guys, the safer course of action IS having them take their bombs home. In combat, when you are the one on the ground, the timeline should be driven by your situation. If you have these guys overhead, the timeline will be driven by how fast they can find a qualified body to take the Beta's place and how fast the new guy can get brought up to speed.

This topic is worthy of further investigation, but this article does not even scratch the surface. The CSAF is instituting a program that will slash the level of support that our warfighters on the ground are getting, and no one has a thing to say about it. They are instituting a program that is opposed by EVERY O-5 and below in the UAS program (remember, they are the only ones who have actually been there/done that with UAVs) and no one has anything to say about it. We haven't even thought about what will happen as the UAS is filled with non-rated guys and the manned assets start to downsize - UPT will become more and more expensive. As they recognize that we can "train" someone to fly an airplane without sending them to UPT, the future of UPT will be in jeopardy. Our leadership is letting politics reign, and it's business as usual.

Most UAS guys don't want to be there - but they all support the mission, and they all put the needs of the warfighter first. When they say this program should not go forward, it would be nice if leadership listened.
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Old 03-01-2010, 05:52 PM   #4  
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Default To the United States Air Force

First, let me say that I am filled with horror and sadness when I consider the rise of the unmanned aircraft. I mean no disrespect to anyone associated with them, you're obviously doing a valuable job. But the trend of taking the pilot out of the airplane is an aviator's nightmare.

That said, the Air Force in my day was top-notch and filled with bright, capable professionals. I worked with some some of the best leaders and sharpest techs and flew with some of the best flight crews you could hope to encounter. Folks knew their jobs and did them well. And we had FUN on and off duty.

I believe in the mission and the men and women of all the branches, have had family and buddies in all of them, and served active duty in two myself. Hats off to the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard but I, myself, do not wish to see a USA without the US Air Force and her pilots in the air.

"Minds of men fashioned a crate of thunder,
Sent it high into the blue;
Hands of men blasted the world asunder;
How they lived God only knew! (God only knew then!)
Souls of men dreaming of skies to conquer
Gave us wings, ever to soar!
With scouts before and bombers galore. Hey!
Nothing'll stop the U.S. Air Force! "

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Old 03-01-2010, 06:38 PM   #5  
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"To prove its accuracy, the Predator crew launched one of its two Hellfire missiles at an empty hilltop. The hit was accurate, but it left the drone with only one missile. The pilot steadied his plane and squeezed the "pickle" button on his stick, setting loose his last missile and obliterating the Taliban machine-gun nest. "We would have all died without the Predator," the controller recalled months later to Air Force officials."

Seems a powerful confirmation of the Predator's accuracy and effectiveness.
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Old 03-01-2010, 07:45 PM   #6  
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Seems a powerful confirmation of the Predator's accuracy and effectiveness.
Is that a tribute to the Predator or the hellfire? I have no experience with either but could an A-29 or AT-6 loaded up, on station with a pilot at the controls do the same? Granted, the drone means no pilot lost if shot down.
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Old 03-02-2010, 02:10 AM   #7  
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Originally Posted by LivingInMEM View Post
The reporter also did not write that the training evals from these guys courses stated that their BEST guy was worse than anyone previously seen in the history of the RTU - the evals did say that by the way.
So, is this why there haven't been any follow on classes after that test class?

Great insight in that post, BTW.
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Old 03-02-2010, 03:00 AM   #8  
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Can not believe they get flight pay. Thought flight pay was given to give extra compensation for the added risk of flight. If I was a USAF pilot that would royally tick me off.
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Old 03-02-2010, 03:49 AM   #9  
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Thought flight pay was given to give extra compensation for the added risk of flight.
I don't think I've ever seen the definition of what the "incentive" in "Aviation Career Incentive Pay" was specifically designed to offset.

I'm guessing that in order to keep the normal "radiator-wing" pilot types getting their flight pay while doing their tour in UAVs, the new Beta types had to get it, too.
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Old 03-02-2010, 04:20 PM   #10  
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Can not believe they get flight pay. Thought flight pay was given to give extra compensation for the added risk of flight. If I was a USAF pilot that would royally tick me off.
That is incorrect. If that were the case, all aviators would get the same flight pay. It's based on rank and longevity.

At the OP: It's definitely interesting times we live in. I hear excellent arguments from every corner. Hopefully it all works out in the end and the warfighter on the ground gets whats he needs.
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