As the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle manager for the U.S. Army Intelligence Deputy Chief of Staff in the Pentagon, I oversaw their development and testing. The U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps have all trained selected enlisted personnel to operate the ground stations for these various UAVs, and they all passed the written FAA pilots' test.
The U.S. Air Force featherbedded experienced pilots to perform identical duties which skyrocketed the systems personnel costs. Strange that the USAF is complaining about a pilot shortage.
The USAF partially justified using such overqualified personnel because they had to be able to fly the UAVs if their systems failed. This is not true, because all of the navigation/operation of these air frames is automatic with backups. The targeting is also AI loaded.
When I confronted retired USAF Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper at the National UAV Conference held at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, he told me everything that flies in the USAF must have a pilot. He also said it was because a pilot or officer must approve of or release all weapons attacks. This means the UAV that fired upon the civilian target in Afghanistan had a pilot release the ordnance. Human error might be attributed to this “accident,” but this is how a professional would have accomplished this mission:
All targets should be accurately identified and confirmed before engagement with weapons.
Civilian residences and their occupants should be a database for both air and ground operations.
Containers for explosives would weigh several hundred pounds and cause a small car to sag down, especially if loaded into the trunk. This would be visible if they had made a final confirmation pass over the target before firing.
When they did shoot and hit the target, they would have immediate confirmation that it did not contain explosives, because any secondary explosion would have a considerably larger blast radius.
This means they would have immediately known they had hit something other than a vehicle packed with explosives. This also means that collectively, they would have had to try and cover it up because they knew it was a mistake. It does not take a study to confirm this.
Lt. Col. S.L. Hackworth is retired from the U.S. Marine Corps and was a Special Forces non-commissioned officer.