Behind the scenes of the Air Force’s anti-terrorism drone program

Amid reports that Iran shot down a U.S. Navy drone last month and that the U.S. downed an Iranian drone last week, remotely piloted aircraft are getting new attention. Many of the drones the U.S. Air Force flies overseas are piloted from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada – and “CBS This Morning” got a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the operations.

Creech is in a remote stretch of the desert about an hour’s drive from Las Vegas, and it’s filled with a fleet of the Air Force’s drones. The military doesn’t like the word drone – it prefers remotely piloted aircraft. But whichever term you use, one specific aircraft – the Reaper – has become a major part of the military’s anti-terrorism arsenal.

Six hundred pilots and 350 sensor or camera operators work in teams around the clock, averaging six air strikes and 1,000 combat hours every day.
 
“The act of taking a human life, the act of supporting guys on the ground, is as stressful as it was sitting in an F-16 regardless of the distance in between the two air frames,” one employee said.

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Creech Air Force Base in Nevada CBS News

Major Bryce is a combatant in the sky eight hours a day, sometimes dropping hellfire missiles or precision guided bombs on high-value targets.

“Our job is to be in the mental model knowing that we could jump right into the seat and something could happen,” he said. 

He believes that being close to home makes him a better pilot. “Even though I might get home at weird hours, I get to go home and spend time with my wife and daughter,” he added.

The missions themselves are classified, as are the Reaper’s other capabilities. But the Air Force did say that the planes are protected against threats that could try to jam the satellite signal between pilot and plane.  
 
These aircraft cost about $16 million each, and it takes about a year to train each pilot. Australia, France and Spain also train their RPA pilots in the facility, and the U.K.’s Royal Air Force runs its drone operations out of the base.

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