Monday, October 10, 2011

So, Drones are Cheap, huh?

Holloman AFB is home to the USAF's 29th Attack Squadron, the drone pilot training unit for the Air Force. The unit 'flies' MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft. The 29th counts 13 Predators and 28 Reapers on strength.

A Reaper crashed on Oct. 7, while coming in for landing. Preliminary reports say it hit some power lines. This is the 5th or 6th drone crash (depending on which list you look at) for the unit since it became operational in September 2009. The piles of wreckage include 3 of each aircraft type.

Cost figures for these aircraft are difficult to pin down, because they are parts of 'systems'. However, figures hover around $10 million for a Predator and $14 million for a Reaper.

Drone crashes don't make the news like manned aircraft when they go down. With them in constant operation, a lot of them are being lost. They are here to stay, they provide valuable resources for our troops. They are not, however, a super cheap way of providing air power. These flying lawn mowers are costing the taxpayer a bunch of money!

Update - The USAF announced that the computer virus that had hit parts of its drone fleet was not one that was aimed at the aircraft or their controllers, but was instead one dropped onto the network by an online computer gaming program. Apparenlty, the 'pilots' at Creech AFB in Nevada, a central location for drone controllers, attached a portable hard drive infected with the virus to their workstations, probably in order to relieve some of the boredom associated playing an unexciting video game all day long.

A couple of thoughts. First, the IT security shown by this is pathetic. Another example of how the Pentagon's understanding of computer security is pretty lame. Second, the stupidity shown by the personnel involved. Why in the world would you plug a flash drive from home, where you've been gambling on-line and surfing porn, into a 'secure' defense computer system? I really don't want someone that stupid controlling multi-million dollar hardware (and I don't think the people on the ground counting on that hardware being in place on time would be too happy about it either).

Photo credit USAF

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