WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- Hundreds of contractors work in U.S. intelligence and military operations because there aren't enough uniformed personnel for the job, military officials said.
The Los Angeles Times reported Friday U.S. drone operations require so much staffing, civilians have been performing operational functions in the launch of Hellfire missiles, and for-profit corporations have been brought into some of the most sensitive military and intelligence matters.
Citing current and former officers, private employees and government documents, the newspaper said it takes more personnel to operate an unmanned drone than to fly a conventional warplane. The Air Force does not have enough ground-based crew to fly the drones, analyze video and surveillance data, or maintain the aircraft, the newspaper said.
"Our No. 1 manning problem in the Air Force is manning our unmanned platforms," Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, Air Force vice chief of staff, said.
The Air Force says it requires 168 people to keep a Predator drone flying for 24 hours, while the Global Hawk -- a surveillance drone that is larger than the Predator -- requires 300. It takes fewer than 100 people for one F-16 fighter aircraft mission, the report said.
The United States has 230 Predators, Reapers and Global Hawks, and the Air Force runs more than 50 drones daily over Afghanistan and what the newspaper called other target areas. Plans call for acquiring 730 medium and large drones in the next decade, the Times said.
The Air Force has stepped up training of drone pilots in an effort to meet the demand, the newspaper said.