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Risk and reward at the dawn of civilian drone age

 
 



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Old 03-30-2013, 02:23 AM   #1
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Default Risk and reward at the dawn of civilian drone age

WASHINGTON The dawn of the age of aerial civilian drones is rich with possibilities for people far from the war zones where they made their devastating mark as a weapon of choice against terrorists.




Risk and reward at the dawn of civilian drone age
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Old 12-01-2015, 06:39 AM   #2
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Using civilians to free up airmen...

Questions Raised as AF Hires Civilian Drone Pilots for Combat Patrols
Nov 30, 2015 | The Air Force has hired civilian defense contractors to fly MQ-9 Reaper drones to help track suspected militants and other targets in global hot spots, a previously undisclosed expansion in the privatization of once-exclusively military functions.
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For the first time, civilian pilots and crews now operate what the Air Force calls "combat air patrols," daily round-the-clock flights above areas of military operations to provide video and collect other sensitive intelligence. Contractors control two Reaper patrols a day, but the Air Force plans to expand that to 10 a day by 2019. Each patrol involves up to four drones. Civilians are not allowed to pinpoint targets with lasers or fire missiles. They operate only Reapers that provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, known as ISR, said Air Force Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command. "There are limitations on it," he said. The contractors "are not combatants." Nonetheless, the contracts have generated controversy within the military.


MQ-9 Reaper

Critics, including some military lawyers, contend that civilians are now part of what the Air Force calls the "kill chain," a process that starts with surveillance and ends with a missile launch. That could violate laws barring civilians from taking part in armed conflict. The use of contractors reflects in part the Pentagon's growing problem in recruiting, training and retaining military drone pilots for the intensifying air war against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. It is several hundred short of its goal of 1,281 pilots. The contractors are Aviation Unmanned, a small, 3-year-old company based in Addison, Texas, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., a far-larger firm based in Poway, outside San Diego, that is the only supplier of armed drones to the Pentagon.

A redacted Air Force document approving the classified contract with Aviation Unmanned notes that the "lack of appropriately cleared and currently qualified MQ-9 pilots is a major concern." The five-page document, dated Aug. 24, says the company will provide pilots and sensor operators for government-owned Reapers to help respond to "recent increased terrorist activities." A similar document, dated April 15, approved a classified contract to lease a General Atomics-owned Reaper and ground control station for a year and to hire the pilots, sensor operators and other crew members needed to fly and maintain it. The Reaper "is needed immediately" for surveillance and reconnaissance, the document states. Both documents black out the cost, as well as most details of the missions and sensors involved.

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