January 15, 2015

Air Force’s Lack of Drone Pilots Reaching ‘Crisis’ Levels

Featuring Paul Scharre

The fight againt the Islamic State is forcing the U.S. Air Force to dedicate more money and personnel to its fleet of surveillance drones, which have been working around the clock to identify and track targets in Iraq and Syria.

The demands for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), especially out of U.S. Central Command, whose area of responsibility includes the Middle East, are so high that the Air Force is facing a “crisis” in its ability to fulfill the mission, said the Air Force’s chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh. That matters because the information sent back by the drones is used to collect intelligence on enemy locations and guide bombing runs.

Unmanned aircraft are far from unmanned. Instead, the military needs roughly 30 people to operate every Predator or Reaper flying in the air over Syria and Iraq. Analyzing the reams of video the drones send back requires at least 80 more people — either civilians, contractors, or troops.

The Air Force has had trouble keeping up with the demands for surveillance data for years, but now it’s facing serious shortfalls when it comes to pilots trained to fly the drones, or as the Air Force prefers to call them “remotely piloted aircraft.”

Read the entire article at Foreign Policy.


  • Paul Scharre

    Vice President and Director of Studies

    Paul Scharre is the Vice President and Director of Studies at CNAS. He is the award-winning author of Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. His firs...