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Report: Britain needs gamers to fly drones in combat

Royal Air Force urged to investigate recruiting teens “straight out of the PlayStation bedroom”

RAF Opens The Control Centre For Unmanned Aircraft Systems Nigel Roddis/Getty Images News/Getty Images

A retired commander in Britain’s Royal Air Force thinks gamers could make excellent combat drone pilots, The Guardian reports. Retired air marshal Greg Bagwell testified before a parliamentary group that the RAF should consider recruiting “18 and 19-year olds straight out of the PlayStation bedroom.”

The RAF, which maintains a fleet of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 “Reaper” drones for use in the Middle East and other theaters, is suffering from a shortage of qualified pilots, Bagwell said. Both the U.S. and its allies generally recruit drone operators from the ranks of traditional fixed and rotary wing pilots. According to Bagwell, the psychological demands of the role have lead to a tremendous attrition in the force. Some had even “quit due to mental stress or illness,” the Guardian reports.

For that reason, Bagwell said, the RAF should begin to look to younger people — specifically video game players — to carry on the fight against Islamic extremists in Syria and other regions.

“We need to test harder whether we can take a young 18 or 19-year-olds out of their PlayStation bedroom,” Bagwell said, “and put them into a Reaper cabin and say: ‘Right, you have never flown an aircraft before [but] that does not matter, you can operate this’.”

According to the U.S. Air Force, the Reaper drone has a wingspan of roughly 66 feet. That’s nearly half again as long as your average school bus. At takeoff, fully armed and fueled, it weighs nearly five tons. Its primary armament, in the U.S. arsenal at least, is the AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missile, a precision weapon originally designed to crack open Russian armor. It can also field the GBU-12 Paveway II, a laser-guided, 500 lb. bomb that’s as long as your average compact car.

“In order to be a very good Reaper operator,” Bagwell said, “you need that three-dimensional view of what is going on around you, even though you are 3,000 miles away. You are playing three-dimensional chess in your mind, so you understand how the various pieces fit together in terms of prosecuting a target.”

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