19:02 GMT05 December 2020
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    The United States Air Force has announced it has more jobs available for drone pilots than for any other type of aircraft, and the number of vacancies will expand significantly to support the USAF's new wave of craft - effectively stifling the hopes of campaigners who wish to see an end to the US military's brutal drone program.

    According to official data, only around two in every 100 US citizens who train to become pilots actually end up flying the skies for a living.

    A number of reasons for this vastly asymmetrical ratio have been suggested, the most common poor remuneration (some American pilots earn as little as US$20 per hour) and/or a lack of vacancies.

    US Air Forces F-16 demonstration team pilot, Ryan Worrell from Iowa, walks past the F-16, a fighter aircraft, on display on the fourth day of the Aero India 2013 at Yelahanka air base in Bangalore, India, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013
    © AP Photo / Aijaz Rahi
    US Air Forces F-16 demonstration team pilot, Ryan Worrell from Iowa, walks past the F-16, a fighter aircraft, on display on the fourth day of the Aero India 2013 at Yelahanka air base in Bangalore, India, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013

    However, in one aviation sector, neither pay nor opportunity is seemingly an issue. Military drones —   officially dubbed Remote-Piloted Aircraft (RPA) — are a booming industry, to quite such a degree that the US Department of Defense is struggling to fill every available opening.  

    Speaking at an Air Force conference, Lieutenant General Darryl Roberson revealed the USAF employs more pilots for MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones than any other aircraft. In all, over 1,000 pilots are employed in manning the two craft, compared to the 889 who man the C-17 Globemaster III (the USAF's primary strategic lift aircraft, used for global transport of troops and equipment) and 803 who fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon (the mainstay of the USAF combat fleet).

    Col. Charles W. Manley, commander of the 163d Maintenance Group,163d Reconnaissance Wing, pilots a training simulator for the US Air Force's MQ-1 Predator, at the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California, June 25, 2008.
    © AP Photo / Damian Dovarganes
    Col. Charles W. Manley, commander of the 163d Maintenance Group,163d Reconnaissance Wing, pilots a training simulator for the US Air Force's MQ-1 Predator, at the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California, June 25, 2008.

    Lt. Gen. Roberson added the USAF was scheduled to retire the Predator, and increase the number of Reapers in the skies, meaning the Force must bring on ever-more drone operators. The proposed growth of drone warfare is but a further supplement to the massive expansion of US drone combat under former President Barack Obama — in all, his administration ordered 10 times as many attacks as his predecessor George W. Bush, dragging the number of strikes to 500.

    General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft taxis at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas.
    © AP Photo / Eric Gay
    General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft taxis at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas.

    While public pronouncements on the use of drones by President Donald Trump have been scant, he appears quicker to green light attacks than his predecessor — US drones hit Yemen on more occasions in one week in early March than they did in an entire year under Obama. Moreover, Trump has granted the Central Intelligence Agency power to conduct drone strikes of its own against militants — a major shift from Obama administration policy, which sought to limit the CIA's ability to engage in paramilitary activity.

    Nevertheless, the paucity of pilots able to man offensive RPAs has forced US Air Combat Command to establish operational centers to meet demand, Lt. Gen. Roberson said.

    "We produced 1,108 graduates from our pilot training program last year, 1,200 this year. We're on our way up to producing 1,400 with assets in the US Air Force. Even that's not going to be enough to meet our requirements. We've got a big problem overall to address — we're short on pilots. We're as low as we could be. We're looking at expanding the number of pilot training bases to get after that shortage," he concluded.

    The Lieutenant General neglected to speculate on the cause of the drone pilot paucity, but public perspectives on the usage of drones may account for the scarcity of willing recruits — polls have consistently indicated opposition to drone warfare is widespread, in both the US and allied countries.

    US pilots pose for a photograph in front of US F-22 Raptor fighters parked on the runway at Mihail Kogalniceanu air base in Romania April 25, 2016.
    © REUTERS / Toby Melville
    US pilots pose for a photograph in front of US F-22 Raptor fighters parked on the runway at Mihail Kogalniceanu air base in Romania April 25, 2016.

    The publicized experiences of former drone pilots may account for this lack of enthusiasm — former USAF employee Brandon Bryant previously told Sputnik his time as a drone pilot was extremely dehumanizing — as might serious questions over the legality of the drone program, and lawsuits brought by relatives of innocent civilians killed in drone strikes.

    Former State Department officials have acknowledged that the program is inimical to fighting terror, with civilian casualties and destruction in fact helping fuel support for and recruitment to al-Qaeda and Daesh in the regions it operates.

    At least 1,000 civilians have been killed by US drones since 2004, including 207 children.

    Related:

    Trump Gives CIA Power to Use Drones to Bomb Suspected Terrorists
    US to Deploy Gray Eagle Armed Drone Squadron to South Korea - Army
    US Hit Al Qaeda in Yemen More in One Week Than Obama Did in One Year
    The Death Drones: People Working as UAV Operators 'Cease to Be Humans'
    Tags:
    employment, warfare, recruitment, pilots, jobs, military, drones, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), US Air Force, U.S. Department of State, US
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