The Air Force is short 600 people. They are needed to fly robot drone planes.
This is a new career niche. This one is in one of the fastest growing careers in the world. The military needs skilled drone pilots. Soon, police forces around the world will need them.
The Air Force has ordered enough new drones to double its existing drone fleet. They are due in 2015.
The Air Force has gone public with ihis. It says that the “number one manning problem … is manning our unmanned platforms.”
But it’s not just pilots who are needed. Also needed are interpreters of the data. This is an intelligence operation. It calls for intelligent people.
This shortage is going to be a constant problem. The more data that drones or any new technology of surveillance collect, the more intelligence analysts will be required. The growth of these new technologies is rapid. The supply of trained analysts isn’t.
The military knows it has a problem. Skilled technicians and intelligence analysts are not easy to come by. The military is moving rapidly to deploy drones, and lots of them.
As of Dec. 16, 2011, the Air Force had 1,358 pilots and 949 sensor operators, a shortfall of 338 and 245 respectively. And with more Reapers coming — their number will go from the current 96 to 199 in 2015 — they will need around 1,400 more pilots and sensor operators combined.
The Air Force will have to hire civilian instructors. There will be new courses created inside the military establishment.
Apart from personnel problems, the military has space issues, as well. Sure, the military uses at least 64 different bases to house its drone fleet. It’s still not enough airspace. According to the report, the airspace required already exceeds what’s available and the problem will only get worse as more bases are built around the country. In fact, many of the new bases won’t have access to the airspace necessary, both civilian and military, unless the Federal Aviation Administration changes its rules about flying drones domestically.
This is a growth industry. As the technology of spying gets better, the demand for analysts will increase. The bottlenecks will multiply.
As of today, drones in the United States can only fly within certain areas designed for military use. To fly a drone outside of those spaces, the Pentagon needs the permission of the FAA, a special permit awarded through a process that “requires a significant amount of time and resources,” something that “does not provide the level of airspace access necessary to accomplish the wide range of DoD UAS missions at current and projected tempos,” according to Kendal’s report.
The only solution, Kendall insists, is to give drones the same freedom regular planes enjoy. Drones will not achieve their full potential “unless they go where manned aircraft go with the same freedom of navigation, responsiveness, and flexibility,” the report states. If the Pentagon can’t find more room in the sky for its drones, the Air Force capabilities “will stagnate or degrade.”
The third challenge is infrastructure. The military will need new buildings to house and operate its drones. According to Kendall’s report, the Department of Defense has already spent or plans on spending a grand total of almost $1.4 billion to build new hangars, operating bases and other facilities to support its increasing drone operations. Presumably, that includes bunks for the extra pilots and sensor operators they’ll need to control the supposedly “unmanned” aircraft.
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