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​Two airmen from the 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron prepare an MQ-9 Reaper for flight operations at Exercise Combat Hammer at Creech AFB, Nev., on May 15, 2014. Air Force photo by SSgt. N. B. 

​Pentagon officials are finalizing a plan for a 50-percent increase in remotely piloted aircraft missions in just four years. This will tap the Army, special operations forces, and contractors to pick up more sorties while the Air Force tries to beef up its remotely piloted aircraft personnel. The Air Force was recently authorized by Pentagon leadership to drop down to 60 combat air patrols with its RPA fleet. USAF maintained a continuous presence of 65 CAPs just last year, and the reduction was the result of the Air Force seeking some temporary relief for the undermanned and heavily tasked RPA community, as the service is attempting to stabilize retention, training, and manning in the RPA community. The Pentagon said Aug. 17 it would increase the total number of combat air patrols to 90 by 2019. Defense Department spokesman Army Lt. Col. Joe Sowers told Air Force Magazine the Army will fly between 10 to 20 CAPs with its MQ-1C Gray Eagle fleet, US Special Operations Command will fly no more than 10 CAPs, and government-owned, contractor-operated aircraft will fly about 10 CAPs under the plan. The contractor aircraft will fly only intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance sorties, and will not conduct air strikes.