The Air Force is planning to cut back its drone flights from 65 a day to 60 a day because drone operators are “burning out,” reports the The New York Times.


The key problem is that the Air Force is having trouble retaining its drone operators. According to the Times “a significant number” of the Air Force’s drone pilots are choosing to leave after finishing their tours.

The Air Force cites the pressures of living a dual life on a base and the real world as a contributing factor to the stress that’s causing people to leave. The Times also quotes a Defense Department study, though, that found flying a drone doesn’t ameliorate the stress of modern warfare:


While most of the pilots and camera operators feel comfortable killing insurgents who are threatening American troops, interviews with about 100 pilots and sensor operators for an internal study that has not yet been released, he added, found that the fear of occasionally causing civilian casualties was another major cause of stress, even more than seeing the gory aftermath of the missile strikes in general.

This is surprising! One of the supposed advantages of predator and reaper drones is that pilots don’t actually need to fly missions in faraway lands. Instead you can remotely pilot the drones via satellite from a base in Nevada.

There are myriad problems with the United States’ drone program—you know, all of the killing of innocent people. But collateral damage we don’t often consider is the toll it takes on pilots. Given that the job of operating drones sucks enough that the Air Force can’t keep it staffed it’s probably a good idea that we’re scaling back a bit.


Read the full article at The New York Times here.