RAF pilots take their jobs very seriously.
The growth of the use of unmanned aircraft has been astronomical over the past decade. The U.S. military alone employs more 7,500 unmanned aircraft in places like Afghanistan, accounting for more than 40% of the aircraft under the control of the Department of Defense. While the typical sentiment portrays the pilots of these aircraft as nothing more than gamers dressed in uniform - mostly because they use a joystick-like device to control the drones - members of the Royal Air Force of Britain bristle under that comparison.
"I've had the accusation levelled that it's a Star Wars game. It's anything but. If we act like it's Star Wars, there are people in the command center watching us and listening to what we do," said a drone pilot going by the name of Oz. "The taking of human life is not something to be considered lightly. OK, they are bad guys we are killing, but they are still human beings."
Oz makes it clear that there is a person behind every action of the drone, and the rules of war and engagement do not change if he's not sitting in the cockpit personally.
"It's irrelevant where you are physically sitting. You're attached to the airframe, you're attached to the view that you see, and you're attached to the laws of armed conflict," Oz said. "The plane cannot start, cannot fly and cannot release a weapon without us doing it. Human beings are in the cockpit - exactly the same as when I was flying a Tornado. We just happen to be 8,000 miles away from the plane."
When you put it that way, it doesn't seem like a videogame at all. In fact, the amount of oversight and caution that using drones allows the military is astounding really. Because the unmanned aircraft can stay aloft longer, the pilots delay pulling the trigger until the target is confirmed. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a really boring videogame.
If you're interested, the entire profile from by Rob Blackhurst at the Telegraph is worth a full read. It's a balanced look at the typical actions of drone pilots and its implications in modern warfare.