The US Air Force hired contractors for drone operations, and it's an ominous sign

Reaper droneSenior Airman Cory D. Payne/US Air ForceAn MQ-Reaper remotely piloted aircraft performs aerial maneuvers over Creech Air Force Base, Nev., June 25, 2015. The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily as an intelligence-collection asset and secondarily against dynamic execution targets.

The US Air Force has turned to using contractors to fly drones, according to the Michael S. Schmidt of The New York Times.

The Times reports that the contractors, civilians working for private companies, will not execute strikes, but rather conduct recon missions.

Though an Air Force official told the times that the contractors “have oversight from both a government flight representative and a government ground representative,” the use of non-military personnel represents a deep problem with the US Air Force.

US Air Force Drone pilots suffer a high rate of burnout, as they work 12 to 13 hour days, performing mainly intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. But pilots also conduct strikes where mistakes caused by tired eyes can cost lives.

Additionally, the pilots are known to suffer from PTSD at similar rates to ground troops. This, coupled with the fact that they do their work in a chair, staring at a computer screen, makes the job punishing, dangerous, and not very rewarding.

“Demand for our services is way, way up. But we are meeting those demands today with the smallest Air Force in our history,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James in a “State of the Air Force” address.

The US Air Force recently agreed to a pay bump for the beleaguered drone pilots, but the financial incentive remains strong for them to defect to the private sector, where they can earn much more as contractors.

Drone pilotsU.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James L. Harper Jr.Capt. Ryan Jodoi, a UAV pilot, flies an MQ-9 Reaper while Airman 1st Class Patrick Snyder controls a full motion video camera at Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan, March 13, 2009, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“The Air Force is the one creating unmanned pilots who have experience — there is nowhere else to draw on pilots from,” Frederick F. Roggero, a retired major general told the Times.

The embrace of military contractors in drone operations by the US Air Force shows another instance of the US military being forced to concede, and join with their main competitors in the labour market, as they have failed to beat them.

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