The US is increasingly relying on drones for recon and air support, but you almost wouldn't know it from how little training those drones' pilots get. A Government Accountability Office report has revealed that both Air Force and Army crews frequently have a tough time getting enough flight hours to stay current. Many Army pilots find themselves being assigned menial tasks that keep them from their main role, ranging from guard duty to mowing the lawn. Air Force operators on the front lines have no problems getting experience at the controls, but they're often limited to whatever combat missions they can fly. The USAF only has about 85 percent of the qualified pilots it needs to be truly effective, according to the report.
Both branches are already trying things to boost both flight hours and the number of available pilots. The Air Force is handing out bigger bonuses to those who stick around for the long haul, for example, while the Army is pushing for more drone instructors. However, the experience problem is making improvement difficult. The Army had to lower the requirements for the drone teachers' school just to get enough candidates, so many fresh-faced UAV pilots are getting their wisdom from mentors who themselves lack know-how. Unless the military treats drone training as a high priority, there's a risk that the overall quality of the US' robotic air fleet will drop.
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