Combat Stress in Remotely Piloted/Unmanned Aircraft System Operations
One of the most important changes in warfare over the last decade has been the growing use of remotely piloted aircraft, most notably the Predator and Reaper. Often described as “unmanned” or “drones,” these systems are actually operated and supported by teams of servicemen and women on the ground, who may not be physically in the battlespace, but are now integral to battlefield operations. While there are similarities between these new type of operations and traditional combat, there are distinct challenges emerging as well, in everything from organizational identity questions to the stresses of fighting war from thousands of miles away.
On February 3, the 21st Century Defense Initiative hosted Colonel Hernando Ortega, Surgeon for the Air Force Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency, for a lunch discussion on new Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) operations and their effects on those serving in them. Colonel Ortega explored the idiosyncrasies of “telewarfare” and presented some of the work that he and other Air Force medical personnel have undertaken to understand this emerging operational environment, to characterize the unique constellation of risks, and to discern the true prevalence of PTSD in the operator population.
Peter W. Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative, delivered introductory remarks and moderated discussion.