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Investigation Finds U.S. Military Drones Have Flown Close to 3 Million Hours

Data provided to AlterNet by the military services reveals massive use of drones, most of their time spent in combat.

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It’s the Army, however, with its arsenal of smaller, tactical drones used by ground troops, that has flown the lion’s share of hours. According to an Army spokesperson, since 2003 that service’s unmanned aircraft have spent 1.2 million hours in combat and, all told, its UAVs have flown more than 1.3 million hours or 148 years worth of flight time.

The Future is Now

In its 2012 budget request, the Department of Defense drew special attention to robotic warfare. “Particularly important is ongoing strong funding for unmanned aircraft systems,” reads the document. Predictably enough, the Army, Navy and Air Force all stressed the need to expand existing programs or develop new remotely piloted systems. Moreover, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office published earlier this year, “the Department of Defense plans to purchase about 730 new medium-sized and large unmanned aircraft systems” over the next decade.

In 2001, Air Force Predator drones flew 7,500 hours. By 2005, the number topped 41,000. This year, Predators logged more than 70,000 hours of flight time and the numbers are likely to continue to increase exponentially.

Last year, for the first time in its history according to Scientific American , “the Air Force trained more RPA pilots than fixed-wing pilots.” Right now, according to statistics provided to AlterNet by the Air Force, the service has just under 1,200 drone pilots, but optimally would like to have 2,000 to carry out its current operations. As a result, plans are in the works to train more drone operators at an increasing rate.

It isn’t difficult to guess where this is heading. An expanding number of drones, drone pilots and drone bases will surely mean more remote-controlled strikes as part of a drone assassination campaign in support of America’s ever-widening undeclared wars.

All told, U.S. military unmanned aircraft have flown more than 2.3 million hours in combat operations during the post-9/11 era. That’s 260 years worth of combat in little more than a decade of war. Or, to put it another way, decades longer than the United States has existed with, we can be assured, many hundreds of years of combat to come.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and a senior editor at AlterNet. His latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso). You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook

 
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