WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 4, 2016) - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) raised the issue of investing in additional training facilities and infrastructure to handle the increased workload of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) personnel during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday on the U.S. Air Force Budget. The committee received testimony from Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Mark A. Welsh III, USAF.
In the hearing, Senator Heinrich stressed the need to invest in additional training facilities and infrastructure to manage increased RPA workload, and highlighted the premier test program at Holloman Air Force Base. General Welsh announced the Air Force would invest roughly $46 million over the next few years to build upon existing personnel and infrastructure.
Senator Heinrich fought to secure key provisions in the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act requiring the Air Force to take actions to rectify RPA personnel shortfalls at Holloman and Cannon Air Force Bases and reduce the severe stress on the RPA workforce. This includes boosting the number of instructor pilots and pilots trained, recruitment and retention bonuses, incentive pay, use of enlisted personnel, and increasing the weighting to RPA servicemembers on promotion boards.
In October, the Air Force heeded Senator Heinrich's call to expand the RPA mission at Holloman Air Force Base by announcing an increase in the rate of student production from 603 pilots and sensor operator students in fiscal year 2015 up to an estimated 818 students in fiscal year 2016.