Niger UAV Base Begs Question of Contractor Role

With President Obama’s official mention of 100 servicemen heading to Niger to set up the US latest unmanned drone program, BTW couldn’t help but wonder how many contractors will be included in not only the set up but also the servicing, targeting, flying and support of the new, supposedly unarmed program.

The drone program pulls from over a dozen contractors and the Air Force estimates it requires 168 personnel to keep a Predator aloft for one hour with over 100 people required for each mission. “Our No. 1 manning problem in the Air Force is manning our unmanned platforms,” said Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, which is exactly why there is such a demand for contractors to support this rapidly growing sector. The Pentagon estimates it will add over 700 new drones, in turn requiring an additional demand for skilled personnel.  Even in the US there is steady demand for turn-key support for Remote Piloted Aircraft.

In reality it only requires around two dozen staff to keep a Predator aloft. But persistent surveillance requires three shifts, replacement SO (sensor operator) crews and an unusual number of US-based contractors that are actually supporting overseas flights. If the project goes to armed UAVs then staff of Lt Col and above will be required for targeting order, in addition to RPA operators (Remote Piloted Aircraft) that will “pull the trigger.”

Not coincidentally, Leon Panetta has suggested a new “Distinguished Warfare” medal for drone operators in acceptance of the stress and commitment from the desk-borne task. The ranking of the medal between the Silver and Bronze medals has created a firestorm of controversy.


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