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.

Takedown of the Day: Ezra Klein on Paul Ryan's Legacy of Debt

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on Capitol Hill in Washington
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Vox’s Ezra Klein says that retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan’s legacy can be summed up in one number: $343 billion. “That’s the increase between the deficit for fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2018— that is, the difference between the fiscal year before Ryan became speaker of the House and the fiscal year in which he retired.”

Klein writes that Ryan’s choices while in office — especially the 2017 tax cuts and the $1.3 trillion spending bill he helped pass and the expansion of the earned income tax credit he talked up but never acted on — should be what define his legacy:

“[N]ow, as Ryan prepares to leave Congress, it is clear that his critics were correct and a credulous Washington press corps — including me — that took him at his word was wrong. In the trillions of long-term debt he racked up as speaker, in the anti-poverty proposals he promised but never passed, and in the many lies he told to sell unpopular policies, Ryan proved as much a practitioner of post-truth politics as Donald Trump. …

“Ultimately, Ryan put himself forward as a test of a simple, but important, proposition: Is fiscal responsibility something Republicans believe in or something they simply weaponize against Democrats to win back power so they can pass tax cuts and defense spending? Over the past three years, he provided a clear answer. That is his legacy, and it will haunt his successors.”

Read Klein’s full piece here.

Number of the Day: $300 Million

White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks about the budget at the White House in Washington
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, wants the agency to be known as the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, the name under which it was established by Title X of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. Mulvaney even had new signage put up in the lobby of the bureau. But the rebranding could cost the banks and other financial businesses regulated by the bureau more than $300 million, according to an internal agency analysis reported by The Hill’s Sylvan Lane. The costs would arise from having to update internal databases, regulatory filings and disclosure forms with the new name. The rebranding would cost the agency itself between $9 million and $19 million, the analysis estimated. Lane adds that it’s not clear whether Kathy Kraninger, President Trump’s nominee to serve as the bureau’s full-time director, would follow through on Mulvaney’s name change once she is confirmed by the Senate.

Why Trump's Tariffs Are Just a Drop in the Bucket

A Hanjin Shipping Co ship is seen stranded outside the Port of Long Beach, California, September 8, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
© Lucy Nicholson / Reuters
By Michael Rainey

President Trump said this week that tariff increases by his administration are producing "billions of dollars" in revenues, thereby improving the country’s fiscal situation. But CNBC’s John Schoen points out that while tariff revenues are indeed higher by several billion dollars this year, the total revenue is a drop in the bucket compared to the sheer size of government outlays and receipts – and the growing annual deficit. 

Bank Profits Hit New Record Thanks to 2017 Tax Law

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times
By Yuval Rosenberg

Bank profits reached a record $62 billion in the third quarter, up $14 billion, or 29.3 percent, from the same period last year, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC said that about half of the increase in net income was attributable to last year’s tax cuts. The FDIC estimated that, with the effective tax rates from before the new law, bank profits for the quarter would have risen by about 14 percent, to $54.6 billion.