WASHINGTON, June 16 (UPI) -- More troops will be trained as unmanned airplane operators than as fighter or bomber pilots combined, the U.S. Air Force said.
The increased number of drone operators signals a turning point for the military branch as it relies increasingly on unmanned aircraft in concert with piloted aircraft, USA Today reported Tuesday. The "Unmanned System Update" report indicated the Air Force plans to develop drones that would be fighters, bombers and tankers.
The Air Force said it will train 240 pilots to fly Predator and Reaper drones compared with 214 fighter and bomber pilots for fiscal year 2009 ending Sept. 30. Officials said there are 550 drone operators compared with 3,700 fighter and 900 bomber pilots.
"The capability provided by the unmanned aircraft is game-changing," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told USA Today. "We can have eyes 24/7 on our adversaries. The importance of that is clear in the feedback from the ground troops -- this is a capability they don't want to be without."
Lexington Institute military analyst Loren Thompson told USA Today intelligence-gathering has been the Pentagon's weak spot for years but has improved recently.