SToday, only seasoned, rated pilots are allowed to step behind the controls of an armed Predator or Reaper drone. However, the Defense Department is planning to change all that by fitting their low-flying Shadow counterparts with precision weapons. Currently Shadow drones function primarily as an intelligence asset—hunting down and collecting information on potential targets. They are also much lighter, smaller and cheaper than Predators or Reapers—which is why the Air Force felt comfortable allowing the most junior officers to pilot missions. Combine that with the fact that high-end Predator pilots are severely fatigued from round-the-clock duty, and you can see why the DoD is making this move. It would expand the fleet of armed UAVs and make them cheaper to operate overall. Sure, the thought of 18 or 19 year old pilots fresh out of basic behind the controls of these machines is a bit unsettling—but it's not like this would be the first time the US threw a teenager into battle. Plus, we are taking about unmanned vehicles looking for specific, high-value targets. There is probably less chance of major incidents involving friendly fire or civilian casualties. [Inside Defense via Danger Room]
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