The U.S. Air Force is short of trained pilots to operate the drones, according to reports.
The drone makers are finding hard to promote their robot centric technology across the higher ranks, and the military has failed to identify and cultivate this new category of aviators, Air Force Col. Bradley Hoagland was quoted as saying.
In 2012, the U.S. Air Force had a goal to train 1,129 “traditional” pilots and 150 drone pilots to operate Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk robotic aircraft.
But the U.S. Air Force training requirements wasn’t met due to lack of volunteers,” the report said.
As of last year, the U.S. Air Force had 1,300 drone pilots, making up about 8.5 percent of the force’s aviators, compared with 3.3 percent four years earlier.
The fleet of unmanned aircraft includes 152 Predators, 96 Reapers and 23 Global Hawks, which is large enough to fly 61 combat air patrols.
The military measures air power in terms of combat air patrols, or CAPs, which are supposed to provide 24-hour air coverage over a designated area. It typically takes three or four drones to make up a combat air patrol.
One of the factors behind the shortfall is a high rate of attrition among drone operators, which is three times higher than for traditional pilots, reports added. Another factor is the intense tempo of operations for drone missions over the past decade.
The constant drone flights mean operators, unlike their counterparts in other specialities, lack the time for additional education and training to attain a higher rank, undercutting their career prospects.
The problem is reflected in a 13 percent lower promotion rate to the rank of major over the past five years, compared to other military fields.
In a bid to give them more recognition, the Pentagon in February created a new “Distinguished Warfare Medal” for pilots of drones or digital specialists who affect the battle at a remote distance.
But two months later, in the face of an outcry from veterans groups, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel scrapped the medal, which had been placed relatively high in the hierarchy of military honors.
Instead, a device will be attached to existing medals to recognize the new-era warriors.