Our Drone Pilots Are Burning Out

Three years ago, a Navy study showed UAV pilots were suffering from the stresses of their job. Three years later, nothing has changed—and that's very bad news.

The Air Force study, Reuters reports, says that 17 percent of US-based drone pilots are showing signs of "clinical distress"—an ambiguous but unsettling diagnosis.

The pilots are understaffed and overworked—but hey, so are most American employees, you might say. But think of it like this: most American employees aren't remotely piloting drones that kill Taliban and spy on Iranian nuclear facilities. These are rigorous tasks, to say the least, even if they're done in some air conditioned office in the US. Lives depend on the decisions made by these pilots, and if they make the wrong decisions—say, identifying the wrong man as an insurgent because everyone is too damn tired and stressed to tell the different—the wrong life ends.

Three years later, this is also a much more prominent, rigorous task—America is out of Iraq, and drones are at the fore throughout the mideast. They're an increasingly popular, palatable way to wage war. So we should be increasingly sure that these remote pilots aren't going to snap, or at the very least, use poor judgment—because poor judgment in this case involves firing hellfire missiles at tiny people from very, very far away. [Reuters via CBS]