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Report: The American Drone Fleet Is Stretched to 'Breaking Point'

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The U.S. Air Forces has been forced to admit that too many missions not enough crew means that its drone fleet is currently being stretched to "breaking point."

The Daily Beast has seen an internal service memo sent by senior military officials. In it, Air Combat Command's General Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle wrote:

"ACC believes we are about to see a perfect storm of increased COCOM [Combatant Commander] demand, accession reductions and outflow increases that will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 enterprise for years to come. I am extremely concerned...

"ACC will continue to non-concur to increased tasking beyond our FY15 [fiscal year 2015] force offering and respectfully requests your support in ensuring the combat viability of the MQ-1/9 platform."


In other words: the Air Force's drone fleet is stretched to its limits. Anonymous sources from within the military have confirmed this to be the case, explaining that "it's at the breaking point, and has been for a long time. What's different now is that the band-aid fixes are no longer working."Apparently the Pentagon is reluctant to reduce drone missions, though demand continues to rise in Iraq and Syria.

Further on in the memo sent by Carlise, he explains that the Air Force preference is for a crew ratio of 10 to 1 for each drone flight, which could drop to 8.5 during an emergency. Currently, most missions are running below even that level, with a day-to-day operations ratio of just 8 to 1.


That's clearly a pretty dire situation for the U.S. Air Force to find itself in, which is why training centers are now being raided for drone operators to man operational squadrons. That means that training centers are currently "staffed with less than half the people they need." Other drone crews have had their leaves cancelled and even been banned from attending training courses—and now, apparently, pilots are starting to leave as a result, putting the system under yet more strain.

Clearly, something needs to give. Either less drone missions need to run, or the military needs to find the staff and resources to run them. But as it stands, it seems the country's drone fleet can't stretch much further at all. [The Daily Beast]