The fact that the U.S. Air Force has been struggling to attract and retain drone pilots has been well documented. For example, take the following excerpts from a November article in the LA Times:
Experienced pilots and crews complain of too much work, too much strain and too little chance for promotion operating the Predator and Reaper drones that provide surveillance and that fire missiles in Iraq, Syria and other war zones. Partly as a result, too few young officers want to join their ranks.
The Air Force has struggled with a drone pilot shortage since at least 2007, records show. In fiscal year 2014, the most recent data available, the Air Force trained 180 new pilots while 240 veterans left the field.
Some pilots also complain of the anguish and emotional damage that comes with murdering women and children while pretending to be in a video game. Recall the following from the post, Drone Whistleblower Claim – Pilots Often High on Drugs; Refer to Children as “Fun Size Terrorists”:
The killings, part of the Obama administration’s targeted assassination program, are aiding terrorist recruitment and thus undermining the program’s goal of eliminating such fighters, the veterans added. Drone operators refer to children as “fun-size terrorists” and liken killing them to “cutting the grass before it grows too long,” said one of the operators, Michael Haas, a former senior airman in the Air Force. Haas also described widespread drug and alcohol abuse, further stating that some operators had flown missions while impaired.
Haas also described widespread alcohol and drug abuse among drone pilots. Drone operators, he said, would frequently get intoxicated using bath salts and synthetic marijuana to avoid possible drug testing and in an effort to “bend that reality and try to picture yourself not being there.” Haas said that he knew at least a half-dozen people in his unit who were using bath salts and that drug use had “impaired” them during missions.
Meanwhile, the LA Times also noted the following in its November article.
The Air Force has offered a retention bonus of $15,000 a year for drone pilots to stay. It also lowered from 65 to 60 the number of drone missions, called combat air patrols, that are required each day. That freed up pilots to help become instructors at Holloman.
Apparently $15,000 didn’t cut it. I suppose we’ll soon find out if $125k is sufficient to put aside pesky humanitarian concerns.
The rules of economics are constant, even in war, and even if that war is the war on terror.
If you don’t believe me, I’ve got $125,000 that says I’m right. That’s the eye-popping signing bonus the U.S. Air Force is now offering currently serving drone pilots if they agree to re-enlist for five years. We’re talking about the pilots who already have completed or will soon complete their initial six-year required training and service. Those who re-enlist can get that $125,000 in $25,000 installments over five years, or get the first $62,500 up front. You read that right. At least one group in our usually underpaid and under-appreciated armed forces is getting the kind of bonus usually reserved for up-and-coming stars in Silicon Valley or Wall Street.
$125,000 is truly a huge chunk of change for our men and women in uniform. To put it in perspective, the maximum annual base salary range for Air Force Lieutenant Colonels is just over $101,000. 2nd Lieutenants can make as little as $34,000 per year. At the very least, a veteran drone pilot is looking at a bonus equal to 123% of their annual base salary. The history of the U.S. military goes back to 1775, but I feel comfortable in saying this is likely the biggest financial incentive we’ve ever offered for re-enlistment.
The imperial economy marches onward.
For more on drones, see: