Uncle Sam wants you...to fly drones

Today's top guns don't have to leave the command center

The Air Force has released its aircraft procurement plan for 2012, and if you happen to be an unmanned aircraft pilot, things are looking pretty good for you in terms of future employment. And although regular fighter pilots will always have their place, guys who suit up and get behind a computer terminal have the momentum.

Kind of makes you think what a remake of “Top Gun” would look like today.

At a time when cuts to equipment are happening across the board, the one area where the Air Force wants to double down is on the number of unmanned aircraft. The main area that officials want to beef up is the advanced killer drones, such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk class, MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1 Predator class.

Of those drones, the Reaper class is the most impressive offensively. And of course, it’s the one the Air Force most wants. The service has 350 of those three classes of drones; by 2021, officials want to increase that number 650, mostly in Reapers.

The interesting thing is that the drones are almost always thought of as throwaway craft, but they really aren’t, not totally. After all, they do cost money and the Air Force doesn’t have an unlimited number of them. But no human has to risk his life when drones go out on missions. Given that human life is the most precious resource we have, that makes the cost of the Reapers practically free.

Also, don’t forget that there are people behind the drone force. Check out a picture of one of the command centers — it looks kind of like a video game.

As of right now, the drones can’t think for themselves, though rumors are that those wily scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are working on it. But for now, pilots need to fly them, although they can do so from half a world away and don’t have to be trained as real pilots to control a drone.

One other thing to note about drones is that they are not strictly an American invention. Russia and China both have them, too. By last count, 32 nations have drones of some sort, showing that protecting human life is not a uniquely American value. 

So one thing that needs to be worked on is a drone that can kill other drones. Don’t worry, they are working on that, too. The Peregrine program, named after the peregrine falcon, which preys on other birds, is working to create a drone designed to kill other drones.

The military has always had a goal of using technology to save the lives of American soldiers. In that sense, nothing has changed since the Revolutionary War. But today, technology has gotten to the point that, for a lot of missions, nobody has to risk his life at all. And I have to say, that’s pretty darn cool for the good guys on this side of the front lines.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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