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​Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, USAF deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, addressed an audience at an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast in Arlington, Va., on Feb. 18, 2015. Staff photo by Lyndsey Akers.

The Air Force will seek relief from the mandated 65 combat air patrols of MQ-1 and MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft, service intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance chief Lt. Gen. R​obert Otto said Wednesday. Speaking at an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast in Arlington, Va., Otto said USAF will ask to field just 60 CAPs for one or two years until it can ramp up its RPA schoolhouse and staunch the exodus of overworked airmen flying the aircraft. “We need to give them a break,” he said. “They’ve been surging for essentially seven straight years.” While the RPA cadre is patriotic and likes the mission, Otto said he’s worried that relentless six-day work weeks and a “one-to-one dwell—they’re gone as much as they’re home”—will lead to the families saying “enough.” Given the improving economy, “We’ve got to give them a reason to stay,” he added. New bonuses will help, but Otto said the reduced workload is just as important, otherwise there’s a risk that “you break the force.” A net four pilots a month are leaving, “so every two months, you’re losing another CAP,” he noted. “If we can come down to 60 CAPS from 65 … then we can get our manpower in balance,” Otto added. He pointed out that MQ-1 and MQ-9 CAPS being flown by Italy, Britain, and France, along with Shadow RPA assets from the Army, add up to 90 CAPS, so there shouldn’t be too much unsated demand for full-motion video. At 60 CAPS, he told reporters afterwards, “we can get healthy and maintain (the RPA force) even with expected losses.”