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America's drone fleet reportedly reaches 'breaking point'

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US Air Force doesn't have enough manpower to meet growing demand for unmanned missions, according to internal memo

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The US Air Force's drone fleet has reached a "breaking point," the Daily Beast reports, without enough pilots and trained manpower to meet growing demand for more unmanned missions. Anti-ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria have fueled the Pentagon's demand for more drone operations, but the Daily Beast, citing senior military officials and an internal memo, reports that the Air Force's program is already under considerable strain.

"It’s at the breaking point, and has been for a long time," a senior Air Force official tells the Daily Beast. “What's different now is that the band-aid fixes are no longer working."

"the band-aid fixes are no longer working."

In an internal memo, Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of the Air Combat Command (ACC), writes that the Air Force would ideally like a crew ratio of ten to one for every drone flight, or 8.5 to one in case of emergency. Currently, however, they're operating at a ratio of less than eight to one, with approximately seven drone pilots for every eight slots that need filling.

To meet the Pentagon's demands, the Air Force has begun pulling drone operators from its schools, which has in turn left its training squadrons understaffed. Overworked crew members have had to miss training that would help advance their careers, spurring many operators to leave the Air Force altogether. A paper from the Brookings Institution last year cited career concerns as a major deterrent to prospective drone pilots.

"Pilot production has been decimated to match the steadily demand placed upon the RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] community by keeping 'all hands' in the fight," Carlisle wrote in the memo. The Pentagon, meanwhile, has requested 65 more drone air combat patrols as early as this April, but Air Force officials say they'll have to ask the military to reconsider its demand.