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Research Questions

  1. What major stressors face the remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) community, and what are the resulting implications (if any) for personnel management and career field planning?
  2. How might a deployment-to-dwell concept be applied to the RPA force?

The demand for the Air Force's remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) has exploded in the past few years. Even though the Air Force has increased its number of RPA units, it has been unable to keep up with this demand. This problem is exacerbated by an inability to fill the ranks of RPA units. The result is that RPA personnel work inordinately long hours, and the RPA mission is more demanding in terms of flying time than the typical traditionally manned aircraft mission. Air Force Special Operations Command leadership recognized the need to address RPA workforce issues and asked RAND Project AIR FORCE to identify issues potentially affecting the RPA force and recommend ways to mitigate them. Researchers conducted focus groups with RPA personnel, finding that while crews view their missions as important, they feel stressed due to heavy workloads, undermanning, shiftwork, lack of training, and undesirable base locations. About one-third of those in the groups showed signs of burnout, a feeling that typically occurs after prolonged periods of stress. Researchers recommend reducing personnel stress by reducing workload and instituting a "combat-to-dwell" policy that allows personnel time to attend to family and administrative needs and mitigates combat exposure.

Key Finding

Crews view their missions as important and feel a strong sense of camaraderie, including positive attitudes toward colleagues and working in a supportive team setting. On the negative side, crews feel stressed and regard their stress as greater than that of other career fields. About one-third of those in the groups showed signs of burnout. The most frequently mentioned concerns were related to lack of manning and overtasking. Another frequently mentioned area of dissatisfaction was shiftwork. Some concerns were also expressed about training; although most personnel felt that they were adequately trained, they felt that more training would allow them to offer more support. RPA units' locations — Cannon, Creech, and Holloman Air Force Bases — were generally seen as undesirable, and available facilities and services were seen as lacking, largely because of the schedules the crews had to follow.


Reduce the workload on remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) personnel. This can be done in several ways: lowering CAP requirements temporarily to allow manning to catch up to demand; manning the career field at 100; and raising crew-to-CAP ratios.

Establish a combat-to-dwell policy for RPA personnel. Institute a combat-to-dwell ratio for RPA personnel to mitigate negative effects of combat exposure, high OPTEMPO, and shift work and provide time for training and families.

Find ways to attract and retain RPA personnel. The Air Force must continue to offer accession initiatives and offer bonuses and incentive pay, It must also ensure that there are clear, attainable, and rewarding paths to job growth and explore adding new RPA base locations.

Continue to improve the RPA human factors environment, such as climate control, ergonomic design, and equipment upgrades.

Use metrics to continuously evaluate the health of the RPA community.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and conducted by the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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