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An MQ-1 Predator taxis as an MQ-9 Reaper lands at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, March 20, 2014. The MQ-1 and MQ-9 are assigned to and operated by the 451st Air Expeditionary Group. Air Force photo by Capt. Brian Wagner.

The Air Force is losing remotely piloted aircraft operators and the only way to train sufficient replacements and meet future demand is to ease the operational tempo, said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. "We're getting about 180 people through this [pilot training] pipeline designed for 300 and we're losing about 240 people a year," Welsh said, speaking at an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast in Arlington, Va., April 2. "That is not an equation for success, so we need a little back-off on the operational demand" to allow experienced pilots to shift from combat to training new operators. "We've got 62 percent manning in training, because we can't take people out of ops groups and put them in training units," Welsh said. On top of that, half of instructors in training units "are flying operational missions every day, not training students," he added. Ironically, budget-driven combat flying cuts have eased the shortage slightly, which is not the ideal solution, Welsh said. As a result, the Air Force is working on a number of solutions—from adding Guard and Reserve pilots, to increasing retention bonuses—to stabilize the pilot pool and boost training to 300 operators a year.