Drone pilot shortage as CIA drone strikes resume

Drone strike damaged house from 2009

After a two week pause the CIA have resumed drone strikes in Pakistan.   According to press reports between seven and fourteen people have been killed in a drone strike on a ‘compound’ near the town of Miranshah in the province of North Waziristan.    The BBC reported that tribal elders in the area had told them that many of those killed were civilians staying in a village house.

Meanwhile in the US competion between homeland security and the military for drone pilots has led to US customs and borders being unable to fly drone missions according to testimony in the US congress this week.  “There is a significant amount of competition among the DoD (Department of Defense) and DHS (Department of Homeland Security) to hire UAV pilots,” said Customs and Border Protection (CBP) assistant commissioner Michael Kostelnik.

According to AFP, the United States currently has four drones patrolling the border with Mexico in Arizona and one in the northern border with Canada in the state of North Dakota. Two more have been requested this year for the Texas-Mexico border.

Drone goes rogue again

Less than a week after the US government deployed Predator drones over the US-Mexico border  the flights have been temporarily halted  after a Predator drone ‘went rogue’.   According to a US Customs statement to a local Texas paper the drone experienced a “communications loss“.  

This is not the first time that a predator or reaper drone has gone ‘rogue’ – the term used when the remote control of a drone is lost.  Apparently a short loss of communication between drones and their remote pilots is not unusal but when it is for an extended period of time, panic ensues.  Last September (2009) the US Air Force had to shoot down one of its own drones  in Afghanistan when it went rogue and threatened to leave Afghan airspace. Perhaps the most famous ‘rogue drone’ story concerns a smaller Israeli-made Orbiter drone, being used by Irish peacekeepers in Chad in 2008 which, after a communication loss with its operator decided to head home to Ireland -some 5,000 kilometers away.   Needless to say it didn’t make it and crashed.

As pressure grows to allow drones to operate in the UK drone manufacturers and operators are desperate to show that drones are ‘the safe security option’. Each drone that goes rogue shows this is not the case.