US training more drone operators than fighter, bomber pilots

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Lahore, Aug 24 (ANI): The US Air Force has said it is now training more drone operators than fighter and bomber pilots as part of an expanding programme battlefield automation, and signalled that the end of the era of the fighter pilot is in sight.

In a controversial shift in military thinking - one encouraged by the now-confirmed death of Tehreek-e-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in a drone-strike on August 5, the US air force is looking to hugely expand its fleet of unmanned aircraft by 2047, The Guardian reported.

Just three years ago, the service was able to fly just 12 drones at a time; now it can fly more than 50.

At a trade conference outside Washington last week, military contractors presented a future vision in which pilotless drones serve as fighters, bombers and transports, even automatic mini-drones programmed to attack in swarms.

Contractors also made presentations for "nano-size" drones the size of moths that can flit into buildings to gather intelligence; drone helicopters; large aircraft that could be used as strategic bombers and new mid-sized drones could act as jet fighters.

Some 5,000 robotic vehicles and drones are now deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. By 2015, the Pentagon's 230 billion dollars arms procurement programme, Future Combat Systems, expects to robotise around 15 percent of US armed forces.

In a recently published study, the Unmanned Aircraft System Flight Plan 2020-2047, air force generals predicted a boom in drone funding to 55 billion dollars by 2020, the Daily Times quoted the Guardian report, as saying.

Last month, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates had underscored the change in strategic thinking when he capped the production of the F-22 Raptor, the US Air Force's most advanced interceptor, at just 187 planes.

In June, Army General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, said he couldn't envision a day when he had enough surveillance assets.

"The capability provided by the unmanned aircraft is game-changing. We can have eyes 24/7 on our adversaries," said General Norton Schwartz, the US Air Force Chief. (ANI)

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