Undertrained US Drone Pilots Put War Effort at Risk

Undertrained US Drone Pilots Put War Effort at Risk

Drones
ARA Robotics
By Brianna Ehley, The Fiscal Times

The U.S. military is allowing pilots who haven’t fully completed their training to fly predator drones over Yemen and Pakistan—potentially putting innocent people on the ground at risk if something goes wrong. 

An alarming new report by the Government Accountability Office found that drone pilots in the Army and Air Force have been skimping on their training sessions in order to get assigned to missions faster. 

Related: Who Knew the Navy Could Launch 30 Drones in 60 Seconds? 

The GAO said that because there is a shortage of drone pilots, the Air Force and Army have been routinely speeding up the process by cutting training time. 

“As a result, the Army does not know the full extent to which pilots have been trained and are therefore ready to be deployed,” the report said. 

The GAO reviewed Air Force records and found that only 35 percent of pilots operating drones had completed their required training.

Some pilots told the auditors that training wasn’t completed because there was a lack of funding or gaps in knowledge about the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) commonly called drones.

“Army UAS pilots stated that leadership of larger non-aviation units that oversee their UAS units do not understand UAS pilot training,” the report said. 

The GAO had previously reported that there weren’t enough drone pilots compared with the number the Air Force said it needed. At New Mexico’s Holloman Air Force Base, for example, drone pilot staffing was at only 63 percent of full staffing level, the report said. 

The latest findings from the GAO seem to confirm that this is still an issue. 

Related: The Duck Drone That Could Change the Navy 

The U.S. military says it is taking action to increase the number of instructors in order to get more pilots through the complete training process. However, the GAO said that the Army hasn’t fully addressed “the risks associated with using less experienced instructors.”

The Army waived course prerequisites for nearly 40 percent of its drone pilots who were working toward becoming instructors.

 “As a result, the Army risks that its UAS pilots may not be receiving the highest caliber of training needed to prepare them to successfully perform UAS missions,” the auditors said.

Meanwhile the Air Force faces instructor shortages as well.

The report calls into question whether a lack of training could hamper drone pilots’ ability to successfully and safely complete their missions. It comes amid intense scrutiny of the government’s drone program after a botched mission in January killed two Western hostages during an attack on al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Scrutiny of the program is nothing new. Human rights activists   have long called on the administration to cease using drones in its ongoing war on terror because of civilian casualties.

A 2013 report by Human Rights Watch said that between 2009 and 2013, U.S. drone strikes killed 57 civilians in six different strikes in Yemen. Last year the Yemeni government paid $1 million to families of victims of one of those strikes, which targeted a wedding and killed 11 people.

Increasing Number of Americans Delay Medical Care Due to Cost: Gallup

iStockphoto
By The Fiscal Times Staff

From Gallup: “A record 25% of Americans say they or a family member put off treatment for a serious medical condition in the past year because of the cost, up from 19% a year ago and the highest in Gallup's trend. Another 8% said they or a family member put off treatment for a less serious condition, bringing the total percentage of households delaying care due to costs to 33%, tying the high from 2014.”

Number of the Day: $213 Million

A security camera hangs near a corner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building in Washington
Jonathan Ernst
By The Fiscal Times Staff

That’s how much the private debt collection program at the IRS collected in the 2019 fiscal year. In the black for the second year in a row, the program cleared nearly $148 million after commissions and administrative costs.

The controversial program, which empowers private firms to go after delinquent taxpayers, began in 2004 and ran for five years before the IRS ended it following a review. It was restarted in 2015 and ran at a loss for the next two years.

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who played a central role in establishing the program, said Monday that the net proceeds are currently being used to hire 200 special compliance personnel at the IRS.

US Deficit Up 12% to $342 Billion for First Two Months of Fiscal 2020: CBO

District of Columbia
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The federal budget deficit for October and November was $342 billion, up $36 billion or 12% from the same period last year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated on Monday. Revenues were up 3% while outlays rose by 6%, CBO said.

Hospitals Sue to Protect Secret Prices

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times
By The Fiscal Times Staff

As expected, groups representing hospitals sued the Trump administration Wednesday to stop a new regulation would require them to make public the prices for services they negotiate with insurers. Claiming the rule “is unlawful, several times over,” the industry groups, which include the American Hospital Association, say the rule violates their First Amendment rights, among other issues.

"The burden of compliance with the rule is enormous, and way out of line with any projected benefits associated with the rule," the suit says. In response, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said that hospitals “should be ashamed that they aren’t willing to provide American patients the cost of a service before they purchase it.”

See the lawsuit here, or read more at The New York Times.