Undertrained US Drone Pilots Put War Effort at Risk

Undertrained US Drone Pilots Put War Effort at Risk

Drones
ARA Robotics
By Brianna Ehley, The Fiscal Times

The U.S. military is allowing pilots who haven’t fully completed their training to fly predator drones over Yemen and Pakistan—potentially putting innocent people on the ground at risk if something goes wrong. 

An alarming new report by the Government Accountability Office found that drone pilots in the Army and Air Force have been skimping on their training sessions in order to get assigned to missions faster. 

Related: Who Knew the Navy Could Launch 30 Drones in 60 Seconds? 

The GAO said that because there is a shortage of drone pilots, the Air Force and Army have been routinely speeding up the process by cutting training time. 

“As a result, the Army does not know the full extent to which pilots have been trained and are therefore ready to be deployed,” the report said. 

The GAO reviewed Air Force records and found that only 35 percent of pilots operating drones had completed their required training.

Some pilots told the auditors that training wasn’t completed because there was a lack of funding or gaps in knowledge about the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) commonly called drones.

“Army UAS pilots stated that leadership of larger non-aviation units that oversee their UAS units do not understand UAS pilot training,” the report said. 

The GAO had previously reported that there weren’t enough drone pilots compared with the number the Air Force said it needed. At New Mexico’s Holloman Air Force Base, for example, drone pilot staffing was at only 63 percent of full staffing level, the report said. 

The latest findings from the GAO seem to confirm that this is still an issue. 

Related: The Duck Drone That Could Change the Navy 

The U.S. military says it is taking action to increase the number of instructors in order to get more pilots through the complete training process. However, the GAO said that the Army hasn’t fully addressed “the risks associated with using less experienced instructors.”

The Army waived course prerequisites for nearly 40 percent of its drone pilots who were working toward becoming instructors.

 “As a result, the Army risks that its UAS pilots may not be receiving the highest caliber of training needed to prepare them to successfully perform UAS missions,” the auditors said.

Meanwhile the Air Force faces instructor shortages as well.

The report calls into question whether a lack of training could hamper drone pilots’ ability to successfully and safely complete their missions. It comes amid intense scrutiny of the government’s drone program after a botched mission in January killed two Western hostages during an attack on al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Scrutiny of the program is nothing new. Human rights activists   have long called on the administration to cease using drones in its ongoing war on terror because of civilian casualties.

A 2013 report by Human Rights Watch said that between 2009 and 2013, U.S. drone strikes killed 57 civilians in six different strikes in Yemen. Last year the Yemeni government paid $1 million to families of victims of one of those strikes, which targeted a wedding and killed 11 people.

Chart of the Day: Dem Candidates Face Their Own Tax Plans

Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren participate in the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Houston
MIKE BLAKE/Reuters
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Democratic presidential candidates are proposing a variety of new taxes to pay for their preferred social programs. Bloomberg’s Laura Davison and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou took a look at how the top four candidates would fare under their own tax proposals.

Quote of the Day: The Health Care Revolution That Wasn’t

Benis Arapovic/GraphicStock
By The Fiscal Times Staff

“The fact is very little medical care is shoppable. We become good shoppers when we are repeat shoppers. If you buy a new car every three years, you can become an informed shopper. There is no way to become an informed shopper for your appendix. You only get your appendix out once.”

— David Newman, former director of the Health Care Cost Institute, quoted in an article Thursday by Noam Levey of the Los Angeles Times. Levey says the “consumer revolution” in health care – in which patients shop around for the best prices, forcing doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical firms to compete with lower prices – hasn’t materialized, but the higher deductibles that were part of the effort are very much in effect. “High-deductible health insurance was supposed to make American patients into smart shoppers,” Levey writes. “Instead, they got stuck with medical bills they can't afford.”

Congressional Report of the Day: The US Pays Nearly 4 Times More for Drugs

A pharmacist holds prescription painkiller OxyContin, 40mg pills, made by Purdue Pharma L.D.  at a local pharmacy
REUTERS/George Frey
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The House Ways and Means Committee released a new analysis of drug prices in the U.S. compared to 11 other developed nations, and the results, though predictable, aren’t pretty. Here are the key findings from the report:

  • The U.S. pays the most for drugs, though prices varied widely.
  • U.S. drug prices were nearly four times higher than average prices compared to similar countries.
  • U.S. consumers pay significantly more for drugs than other countries, even when accounting for rebates.
  • The U.S. could save $49 billion annually on Medicare Part D alone by using average drug prices for comparator countries.

Read the full congressional report here.

Chart of the Day: How the US Ranks for Retirement

Ken Bosma / Flickr
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The U.S. ranks 18th for retiree well-being among developed nations, according to the latest Global Retirement Index from Natixis, the French corporate and investment bank. The U.S. fell two spots in the ranking this year, due in part to rising economic inequality and poor performance for life expectancy.