Leadership: November 11, 2002

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There is a major struggle brewing in the Department of Defense over who is best qualified to pilot UAVs (Unpiloted Aerial Vehicles) and how quickly these unpiloted aircraft should be brought into service. Secretary of Defense Rumnsfeld is eager to buy more UAVs, and fewer new piloted aircraft that cost 10-50 times as much as UAVs. The air force is willing to move ahead with developing more capable UAVs (like the X-45.) But the air force generals are nearly all pilots, and can't help resisting the rapid introduction of UAVs. A major subject of dispute is over who should pilot the UAVs (from the ground.) The air force is using fighter pilots for this, and now wants to give these UAV pilots flight and combat pay so UAV duty is not seen as some kind of punishment. The Department of Defense has suggested hiring civilians to pilot the UAVs. These could be retired military pilots with lots of flying experience, but not physically fit enough to still fly high performance jets. The air force generals are not keen on this, as they have enough trouble getting sufficient money to keep it's pilots flying (it costs several thousand dollars an hour to fly most military jets.) Suggestions to use enlisted troops to pilot UAVs went nowhere, despite the fact that some of these young lads already have thousands of hours on flight simulator games (which are also used to provide basic flight training for military pilots.) This fight it going to get worse, as some of the UAVs fly under software control (no pilot on the ground) and this is what more future UAVs will do. This fight is going to get nasty, with the air force generals going to great lengths to avoid admitting they just don't like the idea of planes without pilots in them. 

 


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