Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Why R drone operators fleeing the USAF? Yow, pops, becuz they are treated badly!

A study found three major causes for the exodus of drone operators: the well advertised overwork, a service culture with an overt bias toward traditional aviation, and institutional reluctance to plan or provide for these Airmen’s attempts to improve their circumstances.

MQ-9_Reaper_CBP
MQ-9_Reaper_CBP

An interesting new article in Air & Space Power Journal concludes that there are three major reasons for the current “exodus” of drone operators:  "the well advertised overwork, a service culture with an overt bias toward traditional aviation, and institutional reluctance to plan or provide for these Airmen’s attempts to improve their circumstances."

That’s a pretty bold statement for a service publication to make about its own service.

A key question, the author asserts, is what the mission of the Air Force is. Is it to fly airplanes on behalf of the nation? Or is it, as he prefers, “to deliver airpower for the nation, which may or may not involve an aircraft — let alone one inhabited or manually operated by a human.”

An interesting new article in Air & Space Power Journal concludes that there are three major reasons for the current “exodus” of drone operators:  “the well advertised overwork, a service culture with an overt bias toward traditional aviation, and institutional reluctance to plan or provide for these Airmen’s attempts to improve their circumstances.”

That’s a pretty bold statement for a service publication to make about its own service.

A key question, the author asserts, is what the mission of the Air Force is. Is it to fly airplanes on behalf of the nation? Or is it, as he prefers, “to deliver airpower for the nation, which may or may not involve an aircraft — let alone one inhabited or manually operated by a human.”

There also is an interesting anecdote about how a MQ-9 UAV operator named Maj. Lewis Christensen began using UAVs in an exercise in a way the other side didn’t expect:

. . . .the exercise director voiced frustration and threatened to remove them from the scenario if they did not stop. Christensen stood his ground, saying that if they wanted to remove the MQ-9s, they should do so realistically by using their “red air” to engage them. The director agreed but then found it far more difficult to kill the Reaper than he had imagined: diverting fighters to deal with the RPAs created openings that left his forces vulnerable to counterattack, but ignoring them gave the team operational freedom to inflict equally unacceptable losses.

I suspect that one of the key warning signs of a lack of institutional integrity is when people stop innovative moves in wargames.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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