Jan 5, 2015 · 1 minute

There aren't enough people to conduct the surveillance and bombing campaigns carried out by unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, around the world.

The Daily Beast reports that a combination of problems, from the increasing number of pilots leaving the drone program to waning interest in signing up for it in the first place, have caused it to reach a "breaking point" that the United States Air Force can't support.

Drones are often imagined as autonomous vehicles raining death upon their targets -- or snooping on people from high in the sky -- without much human input. That couldn't be farther from the truth: in fact, each drone in flight requires a lot of human guidance.

The vehicles require pilots to guide them, maintenance crews to preserve them, sensor operators to control the onboard cameras and other surveillance tools, and analysts to make some sense of the vast amounts of information gathered during every drone flight.

All of which means the Air Force needs more manpower to support the unmanned flights conducted in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries every day.

Finding that manpower is becoming increasingly difficult. That might be because being a drone operator limits a pilots' advancement opportunities, according to the Brookings Institution, or perhaps it's because of the emotional toll drone flights have on the pilots.

This has caused unexpected problems for perhaps the biggest example of the military's increasing reliance on technology, and it could forecast issues with the Department of Defense's plan to solicit guidance on the future of warfare from technology companies.

In other words: the biggest problem with the military's mounting techno-fetishism isn't the technology; it's supporting the humans who operate that technology, whether that requires better career opportunities for crews or better emotional support for pilots.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]