There’s been a lot of talk lately about a shortage of pilots for both military and civilian jobs, and now the U.S. Air Force says it has to hire private contractors to fly its drones. The contract drone pilots are not allowed to fire weapons, but they can operate reconnaissance missions, according to a story in this week’s New York Times. The number of contract pilots is classified information, but Pentagon officials told the Times there are at least “several hundred” working in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“This is opening up a whole new can of worms,” Laura A. Dickinson, a George Washington University law professor who studies the outsourcing of war, told the Times. “With drones, this is a new area where we already do not have a lot of transparency, and with contractors operating drones there’s no clearly defined regime of oversight and accountability.” Military officials told the Times it’s difficult to recruit drone operators because the work is stressful yet tedious, and the operators are sometimes targeted by enemies who claim the drones kill civilians.