The highs and lows of the Pentagon’s newest war machines
by MATTHEW GAULT
Every week, War Is Boring and Reuters sit down to discuss the stories behind the front lines. It’s War College and this week we’re talking about the America’s newest weapon — the drone.
Using unmanned aerial vehicles in combat isn’t new. Both the Allied and Axis powers deployed simple radio controlled planes for surveillance and bombing during World War II. Technology has changed a lot since then and the Pentagon now fields fleets of killer robots in the skies above Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
America’s iconic Reaper and Predator drones stay in the air hours longer than manned aircraft, fire Hellfire missiles with precision and cost millions of dollars less than conventional fighter-bombers. But there are problems. Every drone has a pilot, and by many accounts, piloting drones is the worst job in the American military.
The killer robots’ handlers sit in shipping containers in the desert outside Las Vegas staring at computer monitors and pulling on a joystick. Many of them signed up to fly jets, not drones. Morale is a problem. During the early days of the modern program it got so bad that a U.S. Air Force unit booed its commanding officer. On top of that, the rates of PTSD for drone pilots are the same as pilots flying in active combat.
But the American military needs more drone pilots. It needs them so bad that the Air Force, Marines and Army have all cut corners during the training process. Often the men and women teaching the new generation of drone pilots don’t meet the qualifications necessary to be pilots, let alone trainers.
Despite these problems, America’s drone wars are just beginning.