It’s no secret that drone warfare is the wave of the future. They’re unmanned, relatively inexpensive, and efficient. The United States Air Force recognizes their usefulness and has doubled-down on an initiative to keep their trained pilots. In addition to the already $25k in bonuses the Air Force has dedicated to 5 year commitments, they are tacking on another $10k, according to Engadget. So, if you sign up for 5 more years, you are potentially adding a cool $35k a year to your salary. And with just a little more quick math, that adds up to an extra $175k over the length of a pilot’s contract.

Per the Engadget article:

While the Air Force is doubling the number of pilots it produces between its 2015 and 2017 fiscal years, it’s not going to take any chances with losing those crews that are already here. That’s especially true when airlines are aggressively luring pilots with the promises of greater pay. It’s too soon to say if larger bonuses will work, but the odds are that there will be at least some drone operators who’ll stay on when they would have otherwise bowed out.

While that number may shock some who never saw their careers rewarded with bonuses, it is a lot cheaper than training new people, over and over. And a manning shortage in the UAV programs would be extremely alarming- they are flying constantly overhead our troops around the world. Our guys and gals rely on the drones for intel, security, and even firepower.

What could be facilitating the drain of pilots and sensor operators is the rise of contractors in the drone industry. Almost everywhere you look, companies are springing up and snagging vets while paying over $200k a year. They take advantage of all the leg work the military does (training, clearances, etc.), then come in and offer the big bucks. And it’s tempting to leave the rigidness of the military for a civilian gig- especially one that pays better.

Earlier this year, the Air Force, which always seems to be about a year behind the power curve in terms of projecting manning, also made bonuses eligible for about 3 times as many jobs as last year. And while bonuses come and go, the Air Force needs to understand that they can’t continue to let their home-grown talent leave the military in droves.