Feeds

US Air Force may allow killbots to be flown by non-pilots

Flyboys sick of couch-potato warfare

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

The new head of the US Air Force - replacing an officer who was fired at least in part for dragging his feet on unmanned air operations - has hinted that the service may relax its rule that drone aircraft must be flown by fully qualified military pilots.

Answering written questions from Senators prior to his confirmation hearing, General Norton Schwarz wrote: “It may well be that a blend of rated and non-rated operators makes the most sense. If confirmed, I will come to a conclusion on this issue quickly.”

Staff Sergeant Lance Nettrouer puts foot to ass for his country

A "non-rated" drone handler in action.

At the moment, US Air Force Predator and Predator-B/Reaper UAVs are handled throughout every flight by commissioned officer pilots with wings on their chests, fully trained and rated to fly manned military aircraft. There is also a sensor operator, usually a non-commissioned person not qualified as aircrew - hence much cheaper and easier to find.

In recent times, massive demand for unmanned air patrols above Iraq and Afghanistan has caused manpower headaches for the USAF. The issue hasn't been with availability of Predators, nor sensor operators - the problem has been finding enough pilots. The drones spend much more time in the air than manned aircraft do - this is why the ground forces like them so much - but this means long shifts at the stick for the flyboys back at the ground control station. (Landing and takeoff are handled by a crew at the Reaper's base in theatre, so as to reduce comms latency, but most of a mission is under the control of stations in the USA.)

Pilots hate drone duty, and the previous USAF leadership were reportedly reluctant to forcibly draft larger numbers of their flyboys into the ground control stations - or to compel the existing drone jockeys to work more hours. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates described the business of ramping up drone operations as "like pulling teeth", before finally deciding to fire general Schwarz's predecessor - General "Buzz" Moseley - and his civilian boss Michael Wynne. (Gates also cited various recent blunders involving mistaken shipment of nuclear bombs and export of Minuteman missile parts to Taiwan.)

The other US armed services typically can't see the need to have manned-aircraft pilots in control the whole time. The US Army plans to deploy its own version of Predator - the Sky Warrior - which will have automated landing and takeoff, and be handled during missions by non-com specialists equivalent to today's sensor operators. There is control software in test nowadays which will allow a single, not especially highly trained operator to handle up to six drones at once.

But thus far, the pilot-dominated USAF has seemed to feel that if you absolutely must have an unmanned aircraft, then by God you'll still have a pilot.

It appears that this rather schizophrenic attitude may be starting to break down, though probably only in a partial and temporary way. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.