War games have come home, and they're not so much games anymore.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach is offering what may seem an unlikely masters degree -- in drone warfare. But it's 100 percent on the up and up, and it's a profession that could earn graduates $150,000 a year.
The government budget for drone warfare has shot up from a relatively minuscule $667 million in 2002 to more than $3.9 billion today, a Congressional Research Service report claims.
So, all of a sudden there's a calling for recruits who know how to sit behind computer monitors, an airplane joystick with a "fire" button in one hand and an ability to work the keyboard with the other.
Other schools started two years ago to offer undergraduate degrees in the drone warfare, but Embry-Riddle is the first in the country to offer postgraduate education in the subject -- the war of tomorrow, learned in a classroom.
Were trying to prepare our students so theyre ready to operate at the highest levels, said Dan Macchiarella, department chair of aeronautical sciences at Embry-Riddle, according to a FOX News online report.
At $30,000 a year, it isn't cheap. But most students have financial aid to offset the cost of tuition.
It's not as easy as it sounds, Macchiarella says. Unmanned vehicles come in all shapes and sizes. Some are large enough to carry a human, others are no more than 2 feet across.
My generation grew up with Vietnam on TV," he says. "But this spins off from gaming. It looks like gaming.
Drones in military use today have jumped from 167 10 years ago to 7,500.
But they are also in peaceful use around the world at this moment. The U.S. Border Patrol makes heavy use of drones, and so does law enforcement looking to nab shark-fin poachers off the Galapagos Islands. The University of Florida even built its own drone to count populations of endangered birds, Macchiarella said.
Its going to grow exponentially once the law catches up, predicts Embry-Riddle graduate and drone flight instructor Josh Olds, who worked with government contractors maneuvering drones overseas. He later returned to Daytona Beach to help run the schools flight simulation lab.
In 2011, the University of North Dakota became the first school to graduate a class with a bachelor of science in unmanned systems. There were only five students. Then in May, Kansas State awarded its first diploma.
Embry-Riddle had its fingers crossed for 200 students within the first five years of the program. But, just three semesters in, they have 120 students enrolled. "We're thinking we've got to limit our enrollment to 500 a year now," said Macciarella. "It's taken off like a rocket."
Reach Nancy Smith at sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423.