Wednesday, October 29, 2008

AF Amping Up on UAV pilots

Based on a recent article culled from, this post falls into the brainteaser category. I don't know whether the advent and widespread adoption of UAVs is going to be a net positive or net negative from a fuel usage point of view, but I do know the answer will have a big impact on DOD planning and budgeting activities. I've looked around and can't find any published research which maps out typical fuel consumption rates of manned aircraft used to perform similar surveillance (and occasional air-to-ground) missions. You'd think someone in SAF/AQ would be working on this, and if they didn't do it on their own initiative, that somebody else at OSD would be hammering on them for this type of info. 

Secretary Gates has demonstrated more than once his disatisfaction with USAF's pace of innovation and ability to change:
The urgent push for more drone pilots has been spurred by blunt demands from Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He has criticized the Air Force's failure to move more quickly to meet war commanders' needs. And he set up a task force in April to find more innovative ways to get the aircraft to the battlefield more quickly.
If they were simply a one-to-one replacement for manned aircraft, as many pilots feared, it might be simpler. But as with many new technologies, UAVs unique attributes mean they can deliver 24x7 capabilities commanders never even dreamed of having until recently ... and suddenly deam essential:
A senior Air Force officer told The Associated Press that by the end of September 2011, the goal is to have 50 unmanned combat air patrols operating 24 hours a day, largely over Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently there are 30.
So the AF is coming up with entirely new programs for cranking out UAVs and UAV pilots in large batches:
To generate the pilots for the increased flights, the Air Force hopes to create separate pilot pipelines for its manned and unmanned aircraft, said Col. Curt Sheldon, assistant to the director of air operations for unmanned aircraft issues.
Clearly, though, even with these new programs, it's not going to be nearly enough to satisfy demand:
I don't know that you could ever get (a drone) to everybody who wants one," Sheldon said. "I believe it is virtually insatiable. We are pedaling fast, we are working hard to meet that need."
We sure do live in interesting times, don't we?

USAF Photo of MQ-1 Predators, Tallil AB, Iraq by James Gordon

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