More news on military drone operations

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Reaper drone. Image courtesy of

A few articles on military drone operations.

12/27 – Wall Street Journal – Air Force Looks Beyond Officers to Boost Drone-Pilot Ranks – USAF is moving towards having enlisted troops fly drones. To this point rated pilots had to be at the controls. The increased demands for joint operations combined with staffing limits along with the dreariness of the work has created a shortage of qualified pilots. To fill a gap, USAF may use enlisted pilots.

The starting point will be flying the RQ-4 Global Hawk which is a 50 foot unarmed drone. It provides ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) only without any offensive weapons aboard.

Article says the Air Force has 200 pilots for the RQ-4 and 970 pilots for the MQ-1 and MQ-9.

USAF is flying 65 combat air patrols (CAP) a day now and has requested a reduction to 60 because of staffing shortages Pentagon plans to increase operational tempo to 90 CAPs a day.

1/20 – Craig Whitlock at The Washington Post – More Air Force drones are crashing than ever as mysterious new problems emerge – Last year (not sure if it’s fiscal year or calendar year; I think calendar) there were 20 incidents where a large Air Force drone was either destroyed or received damage of $2M.  That tally includes 10 Reapers and 10 Predators.

Mechanical problems are found in a lot of the incidents, specifically sudden electrical failures. The article says investigators have tracked down the central problem to a starter-generator that fails but haven’t figured out what’s causing it to go sour. That cause explains six of the 20 incidents.

This increases pressure on the Air Force. There is a nearly insatiable demand for drone flights, according to the article. There are not enough pilots to fly all the needed missions. Now the drones are failing in flight. Article says the Air Force says they have plenty of drones in inventory and the losses have not curtailed the operational tempo.

For future reference, here is the tally of Air Force and Army Class A incidents for recent years:

  • 24 – 2015
  • 18 – 2014
  • 21 – 2013
  • 26 – 2012
  • 23 – 2011
  • 14 – 2010
  • 23 – 2009
  • 21 – 2008
  • 16 – 2007
  • 12 – 2006

Article identifies the location of Air Force drone incidents as:

  • 1 – US
  • 2 – unidentified location
  • 6 – Afghanistan
  • 4 – Horn of Africa
  • 3 – Iraq
  • 1 – Kuwait
  • 1 – Turkey
  • 1– Syria
  • 1– Libya

1/3 – AP at Wall Street Journal – U.S. Shuts Down Ethiopia Drone Base –  An unacknowledged drone base in Ethiopia, 280 miles south of Addis Ababa, has been closed. Drone flights from there would have gone into Somalia.

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