JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --
More than a decade ago, when remotely-piloted aircraft were first utilized by the Air Force, the operations tempo was high due to contingencies that took place after 9/11.
The mission evolved over the course of the next two decades, but the operations tempo never slowed down; it increased. As a result, a Culture Process Improvement Program was put in place to remedy specific functional areas in the RPA community.
“We looked at the RPA enterprise, which has been in combat for about 15 years now,” Rabideau said. “Since we’ve been in constant surge operations, we never took the time to structure the enterprise how it should’ve been built.”
In contrast, when the F-22 Strike Eagle and F-35 Raptor enterprises were crafted, 15 to 20 years of planning and development were put into incrementally doing it right, Rabideau said.
“[When the MQ-1 Predator came online,] we literally took them off of the assembly line, drove them in trucks to [the airport] and flew them [downrange,]” Rabideau said. “We had a wish list of things we would have liked to do as a staff to fix things, but we didn’t have the time or the staff focus to do it because there wasn’t enough bandwidth.”
The RPA community experienced a similar issue throughout that 15-year period when it came to taking care of their Airmen.
“We assumed risks for 15 years,” Rabideau said. “[CPIP gives us] a pause to do it right and take deliberate steps in the enterprise that we didn’t have time to do in the beginning.”
Over the course of the RPA community’s tenure, leaders also reached out to their Airmen to gain insight on their situation and paint a clear picture of what path needed to be taken.
“We went out to the grass roots [of the RPA career fields] and asked the folks that have been living it, ‘If you were king for a day, what would you like to see changed?’” Rabideau said. “[When we saw their] frustration, that’s when we decided we had to fix something at the strategic level to make things better for the long term.”
It’s a balancing act to be able to remedy items in the short term to make them more effective in the long run, Rabideau explained.
One current goal is to find those short term solutions to avoid Airmen from being discouraged when they hear an immediate 2016 challenge will have a solution funded in 2019 and completely put together by 2021, Rabideau said.
“CPIP provided the focus to get the strategic vision in line for the enterprise, which we didn’t have before,” Rabideau said.
To acquire that vision, the key areas of focus for the career field were set as the need for more manning and more infrastructure to facilitate the increase in manning, Rabideau said.
“[CPIP] is building new bases, giving [Airmen] new opportunities and trying to stabilize the force,” Rabideau said.
As the Air Force continues to provide actionable recommendations in response to global challenges in the RPA community, the RPA enterprise continues to represent a significant evolution in warfare. The role CPIP provides is integral to the culture and processes that have come to define Air Force operations.
“I think the benefits we provide to combatant commanders are invaluable, whether it is intelligence collection or kinetic effects,” Rabideau said. “CPIP is designed to get things moving in the right direction.”