National Defense Magazine reports that "military drone pilots at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, celebrated a big milestone in May when they launched their 65th 'combat air patrol' over a foreign war zone. That marker was a significant 'mission accomplished' moment for an Air Force that had been under intense political pressure for four years to build up its drone forces."
"The goal set by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2009 was to deploy enough drones to provide 65 combat air patrols by 2013. The number indicates how many aircraft are available for duty over a 24-hour period. Back in 2008, the Air Force could only provide 33 combat air patrols."
"The high spirits at Creech were short lived, though. When Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James visited in June, she saw a pilot corps that was struggling to keep up. 'Talks with the RPA pilots and the sensor operators, and their leaders certainly told me that this is a force that is under significant stress, significant stress from what is an unrelenting pace of operations,' James said this week at a Pentagon news conference."
"Despite doubling its capacity over the past five years, the supply of Air Force drones has not grown as fast as the demand. And nobody at the Defense Department apparently had predicted this. Officials had speculated that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan would ease the need to provide 24/7 aerial surveillance and to launch missile strikes from Predator and Reaper drones. But the opposite has happened. There are far fewer U.S. boots on the ground now in both war zones and that is precisely why drones are relied upon more than ever."