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Remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) are expected to be a major component of the Air Force's future mission capability. Therefore, the Air Force has created two new career fields — 18X for RPA pilots and 1U for sensor operators (SOs) — and has also extended Aviation Incentive Pay and Career Enlisted Incentive Pay to the RPA career fields, equivalent to the traditional flight pays given to personnel who crew manned aircraft. This monograph assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of RPA incentive pays for retaining pilots and SOs, using an econometric model of officer and enlisted retention behavior developed at RAND, the Dynamic Retention Model. Our results suggest that to make the new career fields healthy and sustainable, the Air Force should start with a tempered ramp-up, with a training production rate that will fill mission-control element requirements for 18X RPA pilots by FY 2016 and for SOs by FY 2013. Current civilian pilot positions requiring deployment pay much higher salaries than the typical salaries officers can expect, and pay for SOs is even higher relative to that of other enlisted personnel, which suggests that incentive pays should be continued for both career fields, and SO reenlistment bonuses should be retained, because the consequences of failure to retain enough personnel would cause serious problems with filling operations, training, leadership, and staff positions. Finally, we recommend collecting new data on potential applicants' reasons for or against volunteering for the RPA career field, along with their final decisions and qualifications.

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The research reported here was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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