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Air Force cutting back on drone missions to ease pilot burnout

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Remotely operating a deadly weapon all day is stressful work

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

As the Air Force’s reliance on drone missions continues to rise, so too does the stress of its drone pilots. Now, the military is hoping to curb burnout in these personnel by cutting back on the number of daily drone operations — reducing them from 65 per day to 60.

The move is in response to the many first-generation drone pilots who are choosing to leave their positions once their service time is up. Right now, the Air Force has around 1,200 pilots who are "undermanned and overworked," according to Col. James Cluff. Speaking with The New York Times, he notes that these pilots must often switch off between day and night shifts, and they don’t have much guarantee of any downtime or career advancement.

The military is faced with losing more operators than it brings in

Meanwhile, the Air Force is also struggling to produce new recruits, since instructors are being used as pilots themselves to accommodate the increase in drone missions. Without some kind of shift in operations, the military is faced with losing more operators than it brings in.

The cutback in missions may ease the stresses on pilots, but it means less surveillance activity in war zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. The move could also create issues for the CIA, which uses drones for targeting terrorist suspects, including those involved in the growing Islamic State.