Undertrained Military Drone Pilots Have Senators Steaming

Undertrained Military Drone Pilots Have Senators Steaming

A small drone helicopter operated by a paparazzi records singer Beyonce Knowles-Carter (not seen) as she rides the Cyclone rollercoaster while filming a music video on Coney Island in New York in this August 29, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File
CARLO ALLEGRI
By Brianna Ehley, The Fiscal Times

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill sent a scathing letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter this week slamming the Pentagon for allowing Air Force and Army pilots to operate predator drones without completing their necessary training. 

The revelation came in a report published last week by the Government Accountability Office that said most drone pilots never finished all of their training because of pilot shortages and a lack of planning and strategy within the Defense Department. 

Related: Undertrained U.S. Drone Pilots Put War Effort at Risk 

The report said that just about 35 percent of Air Force pilots had completed training for all their required missions. Separately, the Army had not been keeping sufficient pilot training records. “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. 

In the letter to Carter, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the ranking member of the committee, said they were “disturbed that the Department of Defense has no standardized training program for [unmanned aerial system] pilots and personnel.” 

"The continued lack of consistent and uniform training standards is simply unacceptable. In addition to collecting critical intelligence, the department's UAS programs carry out sensitive strike missions that should require high standards and specialized training,” the letter said. 

Related: The Duck Drone That Could Change the Navy 

The senators slammed the Air Force for its lax training efforts and demanded that the military improve its process and resolve the pilot shortages. 

"These pilot shortages have constrained training and place extreme strain on the existing community of pilots and sensor operators,” the senators wrote. 

The GAO first called attention to the drone pilot shortages and training concerns last year. The auditors said that the military attempted to resolve the shortages by hiring more instructors, but the new report shows that the instructors, too, lacked sufficient training.

Number of the Day: $22 Trillion

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The total national debt surpassed $22 trillion on Monday. Total public debt outstanding reached $22,012,840,891,685.32, to be exact. That figure is up by more than $1.3 trillion over the past 12 months and by more than $2 trillion since President Trump took office.

Chart of the Week: The Soaring Cost of Insulin

Client Sanon has her finger pricked for a blood sugar test in the Family Van in Boston
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The cost of insulin used to treat Type 1 diabetes nearly doubled between 2012 and 2016, according to an analysis released this week by the Health Care Cost Institute. Researchers found that the average point-of-sale price increased “from $7.80 a day in 2012 to $15 a day in 2016 for someone using an average amount of insulin (60 units per day).” Annual spending per person on insulin rose from $2,864 to $5,705 over the five-year period. And by 2016, insulin costs accounted for nearly a third of all heath care spending for those with Type 1 diabetes (see the chart below), which rose from $12,467 in 2012 to $18,494. 

Chart of the Day: Shutdown Hits Like a Hurricane

An aerial view shows a neighborhood that was flooded after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina
© CHRIS KEANE / Reuters
By Michael Rainey

The partial government shutdown has hit the economy like a hurricane – and not just metaphorically. Analysts at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said Tuesday that the shutdown has now cost the economy about $26 billion, close to the average cost of $27 billion per hurricane calculated by the Congressional Budget Office for storms striking the U.S. between 2000 and 2015. From an economic point of view, it’s basically “a self-imposed natural disaster,” CRFB said. 

Chart of the Week: Lowering Medicare Drug Prices

A growing number of patients are being denied access to newer oral chemotherapy drugs for cancer pills with annual price tags of more than $75,000.
iStockphoto
By Michael Rainey

The U.S. could save billions of dollars a year if Medicare were empowered to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies, according to a paper published by JAMA Internal Medicine earlier this week. Researchers compared the prices of the top 50 oral drugs in Medicare Part D to the prices for the same drugs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which negotiates its own prices and uses a national formulary. They found that Medicare’s total spending was much higher than it would have been with VA pricing.

In 2016, for example, Medicare Part D spent $32.5 billion on the top 50 drugs but would have spent $18 billion if VA prices were in effect – or roughly 45 percent less. And the savings would likely be larger still, Axios’s Bob Herman said, since the study did not consider high-cost injectable drugs such as insulin.