A new study by the US military have found that its remotely-based drone pilots experience mental issues such as depression and post-traumatic stress at the same rate as its regular pilots that fought in US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The study, conducted by US Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, “which analyzes health trends among military personnel,” did not, however, explain the sources of mental problems among American drone pilots, though military officials and other experts have pointed to several likely causes that include witnessing the inflicted carnage on live video and stressful work conditions, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
“Remotely piloted aircraft pilots may stare at the same piece of ground for days,” said Jean Lin Otto, an epidemiologist who was a co-author of the study. “They witness the carnage. Manned aircraft pilots don’t do that. They get out of there as soon as possible.”
The study further confirms a mounting body of research materials pointing to mental health risks even for individuals piloting the flying killing machines from bases far from the actual war zones.
“Though it might be thousands of miles from the battlefield, this work still involves tough stressors and has tough consequences for those crews,” said the report, quoting Peter Singer, a scholar at Washington think tank Brookings Institution that has widely written about US assassination drones.
The report further cites US Air Force officials and independent experts as mentioning a number of potential causes of mental issues suffered by American assassination drone pilots, among them “witnessing combat violence on live video feeds, working in isolation or under inflexible shift hours … and dealing with intense stress because of crew shortages.”
Meanwhile, the report noted that since 2008, the number of US assassination drone pilots has surged by fourfold, to nearly 1,300 and the Air Force is currently training more pilots for the drones than for its fighter jets and bombers combined.
However, the figures do not include the terror drones operated by the country’s CIA spy agency in what it has publicized as “counterterrorism operations” over Pakistan, Yemen and other Muslim countries.
The report further pointed to the recent Obama administration decision to create a new medal to honor American troops involved in both the assassination drone warfare and its global cyberwarfare as part of an effort by the US military to complement its expansion of such forces.