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.
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.
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.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated this week that President Trump has now signed legislation that will add a total of $4.7 trillion to the national debt between 2017 and 2029. Tax cuts and spending increases account for similar portions of the projected increase, though if the individual tax cuts in the 2017 Republican overhaul are extended beyond their current expiration date at the end of 2025, they would add another $1 trillion in debt through 2029.
Are interest rates destined to move higher, increasing the cost of private and public debt? While many experts believe that higher rates are all but inevitable, historian Paul Schmelzing argues that today’s low-interest environment is consistent with a long-term trend stretching back 600 years.
The chart “shows a clear historical downtrend, with rates falling about 1% every 60 years to near zero today,” says Bloomberg’s Aaron Brown. “Rates do tend to revert to a mean, but that mean seems to be declining.”
Lawmakers are considering three separate bills that are intended to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. Here’s an overview of the proposals, from a series of charts produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation this week. An interesting detail highlighted in another chart: 88% of voters – including 92% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans – want to give the government the power to negotiate prices with drug companies.
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.”