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The Problem with Drones: They Work Too Well

Written by on Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Drones are the superheroes of the jet world. They’re new, they’re flashy, and they’re saving the day by providing constant, cheap surveillance without endangering any US soldiers. You can even give them the equivalent of super strength or eye lasers by strapping a few missiles to them and letting them unleash their devastating payloads on targets. As great as they are, they have one weakness: they’re here to serve people, and us mere mortals just can’t keep up.

US drones are allowing the military to collect information faster than it ever has before. That’s a good thing, but only if you have the manpower to filter through the glut of digital information. So, let’s get this straight: drones became popular because they freed up manpower, but now that they’re in their air we don’t have enough manpower to catalog and store the data? Air Force, meet irony. Irony, meet the Air Force. The problem here is a very simple one. Data is coming in faster than data specialists can store it. The Air Force to do list keeps getting longer and longer, but because the drones aren’t taking a break the Air Force hasn’t had an opportunity to play catch up.

Here’s the obvious question: why doesn’t the Air Force just hire more people to store the data? Well, they could, but that’s kind of missing the point. Hiring more people would be like hiring an extra plumber to pump water off of the bathroom floor because of a leaky pipe. It’d be effective at keeping your floor dry, but the bigger problem is the leaky pipe. The best way to fix the problem is to focus on ways to siphon the water off to where it’s supposed to go. Plus, it can take as many as 20 trained cialis online pharmacy experts to analyze the footage from a single Predator drone. Yeesh. And let’s not forget that drone specialists have one of the most unpopular jobs in the Department of Defense, with reported levels of stress and burnout much higher than in any other position.

Another factor that’s making this massive pile of data so difficult to bite into is that the Air Force can’t tackle it in a logical fashion. They can’t just start with the oldest data and work their way forward. Different chunks of information have different levels of importance. Some surveillance footage covers critical areas, while other footage covers badlands that will probably hold nothing of interest. Plus, every new mission requires that the data analysts have to dig up the surveillance that covers a specific region and analyze so the troops know what they’re getting into. What’s resulted is a Whack-a-Mole of data. They have to focus on data in erratic patterns rather than tackling the problem systematically. And even after data gets completely analyzed, you can’t just delete it. It could hold useful information for future missions. I hate to think how frequently USAF analysts see “The hard drive is low on disc space” warnings.

For now, the Air Force is going to tighten its belt on drone usage. It will increase the number of drone patrols slightly (kind of like saying “I’ll start my diet right after this burger“) and then it will keep a static number of drones in the sky while analysts play catch up. The AF is also thinking about using data-sifting algorithms to sort through the data automatically. Yep, it’ll be robots storing data collected by robots.

If you want advice about the world of military aviation, there’s no better people to turn to than men and women who have sat in the cockpit and flown some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. With over 50 current and ex-warfighters on call, Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can give you access to up-to-date, first-hand technical and tactical expertise.

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