Despite the fact that ISIS is obviously being propped up by Western forces, a recent Pew Research poll discovered that a shocking 63% of Americans support using drone strikes against ISIS, and 47% would like to see a ground invasion of the region. I guess some things never change. History has shown us time and time again, that the vast majority of Americans are so dupable that it would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic. As the old saying goes, “fool me once” and well…you know the rest.
So now that the American public is coming around to the idea of invading Syria and Iran, an idea which would have been unthinkable a year ago, it’s safe to assume that the United States will be stepping up their drone attacks against ISIS. But, unfortunately for the war pigs in Washington, there’s a small hitch in their plan. It turns out that the highly trained pilots and support staff required to fly these multimillion dollar machines, are fleeing the profession in droves.
The U.S. Air Force’s fleet of drones is being strained to the “breaking point,” according to senior military officials and an internal service memo acquired by The Daily Beast. And it’s happening right when the unmanned aircraft are most needed to fight ISIS.
The Air Force has enough MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones. It just doesn’t have the manpower to operate those machines. The Air Force’s situation is so dire that Air Combat Command (ACC), which trains and equips the service’s combat forces, is balking at filling the Pentagon’s ever increasing demands for more drone flights.
“ACC believes we are about to see a perfect storm of increased COCOM [Combatant Commander] demand, accession reductions, and outflow increases that will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 enterprise for years to come,” reads an internal Air Force memo from ACC commander Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, addressed to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. “I am extremely concerned.”
So just how bad is it? According to the Air Force, there should be 8.5 drone staffers for each bird in orbit, bare minimum. Those kinds of numbers should only be seen in an emergency. However, the Air Force’s drone program is currently left with less than 8 people per drone on a regular basis.
If you’ve ever worked for an understaffed company, you probably already know what this means. The remaining drone pilots are so overworked, that they also want to leave. This in turn, is leaving the Air Force with no choice but to pull their drone instructors from the schools that are needed to train new pilots.
The Air Force has been forced to raid its schools for drone operators to man the operational squadrons that are flying combat missions over places like Iraq and Syria. As a result, training squadrons—called Formal Training Units (FTU)—are being staffed with less than half the people they need. Even the Air Force’s elite Weapons School—the service’s much more extensive and in-depth version of the Navy’s famous Top Gun school—course for drone pilots was suspended in an effort to train new rookie operators.
Overworked drone crews have had their leaves canceled and suffered damage to their careers because they could not attend required professional military education courses.
To put it bluntly, the Air Force’s drone program is caught in a death spiral. And without a functional training program, it won’t be long before this profession is staffed with people teetering on the edge of mental breakdown and incompetence.
Sure, being a drone pilot means staring at screens for so long that you start to dream in infrared, and you have to be on call so often that it hurts your career and your family life (so much for having a cushy stateside job), but there is also the psychological toll this job inflicts on its pilots.
When these predator drones were first making waves, nobody really thought about the mental anguish that comes with being a drone pilot. After all, you’re nowhere near the battlefield, and you get to go home to your family at the end of the day. You get to protect America by sitting on your ass and shooting pixels all day. It’s basically just like a video game right?
What they didn’t consider (or knew, but just didn’t care), is that PTSD doesn’t just come from the stress of having your life threatened. The act of killing another human being can be equally traumatic for most people. Add to that the guilt that is associated with fighting people who can’t fight back, and the uncertainty that follows from not knowing whether that pixel you obliterated was a dog or a child, and you can reasonably expect that pilot to be traumatized for life. And don’t forget to multiply that damage times a thousand, since a lengthy career as a drone pilot means you might end up killing hundreds, if not thousands of people.
So in short, the job is too exhausting and dehumanizing for the average person, and, this is just my theory, but I suspect it isn’t exciting enough for a sociopath to enjoy. This is notoriously boring work that entails sitting around for hours on end, sometimes for days and weeks, before anything happens. This is not something an aggressive personality can put up with. So if they can’t find sociopathic killers for the job, and they certainly can’t retain sane, well-adjusted people, that leaves the military with precious few recruits for the job.
At the end of the day, it’s safe to assume that our military’s drone program will end in one of two ways. It will either crumble under the weight of exhaustion and incompetence, or it will be outsourced to contractors. And somehow, I suspect that a Blackwater–run drone program won’t end well for any of us.
Joshua Krause is a reporter, writer and researcher at The Daily Sheeple, where this article first appeared. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and is a freelance writer and author. You can follow Joshua’s reports at Facebook or on his personal Twitter. Joshua’s website is Strange Danger.