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Vast Majority Of Military Drone Pilots On Crucial Missions Don’t Have Full Training

A new report from a top government watchdog finds that drone pilots in both the Army and Air Force are not receiving proper training because of the need to complete crucial missions and ameliorate emergency levels of staffing.

In an analysis of Air Force records, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that that only 35 percent of drone pilots have completed full training. Pilots stated that there simply was not enough time to finish all the requirements because of severe staff shortages.

In the Army, the conundrum is worse. Unit status reports do not mandate the collection of training information, meaning that the Army has no idea how many pilots are fully trained. Confident deployment of pilots, then, is a much more hazardous affair.

While the GAO did note that both services have tried to add more instructors to address the underlying causes for the shortages, the problem is that instructors don’t appear out of the ether. Instead, for about 40 percent of existing pilots looking to become instructors, the Army waived course requirements from 2013 to February 2015. If instructors aren’t fully trained, it’s difficult for pilots to be fully trained, even if technically the pilots meet stipulated requirements.

However, as of 2015, the Army has stopped granting course waivers for instructors. There’s a caveat. The Army still can grant prerequisite waivers related to experience, though not proficiency.

The problem highlighted by GAO isn’t a new one. Back in January, senior Air Force officials wrote a memo indicating that unless the service bumped up the number of drone pilots available, crucial missions against the Islamic State would be jeopardized. (RELATED: Air Force Drone Program On The Verge Of Collapse)

Officials pointed to several reasons for the shortage. First, the bare minimum of personnel needed for a single drone flight is 10, but Air Combat Command has been chugging along at emergency levels of 8.5.

This staffing level forces personnel to give up valuable education needed for advancing one’s career because of the time requirements imposed on pilots. Based on a study conducted by the Brookings Institution, retention rates for drone pilots are three times lower than for normal pilots in the Air Force.

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