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US Drone Program Caught in 'Perfect Storm'

Air Force has 7 pilots per 8 positions needed: report
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 5, 2015 1:09 PM CST
US Drone Program Caught in 'Perfect Storm'
Military personnel adjust the placement of the US Air Force MQ-1 Predator aircraft at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, Calif., June 25, 2008.   (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

(Newser) – The US Air Force has enough drones for its needs—but it doesn't have enough pilots to use them effectively, the Daily Beast reports. While the US faces a formidable enemy in ISIS, the fleet is at the "breaking point," with Pentagon requests exceeding Air Force capacity, officials say. An internal memo, meanwhile, warns of a "perfect storm" as demand increases while availability shrinks. The situation "will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 (drone) enterprise for years to come," a commander writes in a leaked memo to the Air Force chief of staff.

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An "orbit" of four drones requires a crew of 10 in normal circumstances, or 8.5 in an emergency, but it's already below that, the Air Force says. The Air Force has pulled people from training to help meet the numbers, and that has resulted in the suspension of an elite training program. And as crews face increased workloads, they're quitting the Air Force—making things even tougher. Currently, officials have about seven pilots per eight drone-pilot positions. "It's at the breaking point, and has been for a long time," a top service official says. "What's different now is that the Band-Aid fixes are no longer working." Click for the full report. (Read more drones stories.)

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