Faced with a shortage of personnel to fly and maintain its MQ-9 Reaper drones, the Air Force will be hiring outside contractors to take some of the workload off of the USAF pilots.
These pilots will only be involved in reconnaissance and surveillance missions, according to Maj. Gen. Genieve David, and "[contractor's missions will] not involve engaging targets or lasing targets.”
Despite not being combat missions, the mission planning and executions will be the same for the contractors as it is for the current USAF Remote Piloted Aircraft (RPA) pilots. Currently the USAF is using contractors as drone instructor pilots as well as in support roles with RPA squadrons. In total, the Air Force wants civilian contractors for 10 non-combat RPA missions per day, with Air Force personnel performing an additional 60 missions per day.
Currently, Air Force RPA pilots are stretched thin, with many pilots flying unmanned missions 6 or 7 days a week. This means that while they may be able to go home after their missions, they are unable to get as much continuing professional development and education as other USAF personnel and are often promoted at a much slower rate.
Additionally, the Air Force's turning to private contractors may actually drive out current USAF RPA personnel, since it maybe be possible for private contractor drone pilots to ear more than twice what they earn in the Air Force. Some firms based overseas (sometimes in hotspots like Iraq or Afghanistan) will pay well over $200,000 for qualified RPA pilots. In the Air Force a captain with seven years' experience is making a bit over $100,000 with all benefits (base play, BAH, and flight pay) combined.
This huge pay bump is just one of the benefits some see in leaving the Air Force to fly as a private contractor - they no longer have to deal with the bureaucratic nature of the military - mindless, unnecessary paperwork; countless evaluations; and the up-or-out need for constant promotions. This may cause RPA pilots to leave the USAF - only to be hired as private contractors by the USAF!