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So we all know that drones are on the rise in the military, but just how much is this fancy new technology costing? The short answer: a lot. So much, in fact, that the Pentagon's internal watchdog group is trying to figure out how the Air Force is justifying spending $8.8 billion (BILLION!) on 46 armed Reaper drones.

Though the fleet started with a modest 60 MQ-9 Reaper aircraft created by General Atomics, we're now paying for 401 of these bad boys. The kicker? There's no evidence the Air Force has explained its need for the expansion of these widely expensive drones. It's interesting to note, that the original purchases made in 2007 were about $1.1 billion. Meanwhile, over the last eight years, the price has gone up 934 percent. But that's all chump change when you realize that the total cost, including maintenance costs of about $65.1 billion, is about $76.8 billion.

Keeping all those crazy numbers in mind, last year, the Inspector General's office put out a report (acquired by The Guardian via FOIA requests) titled "The air force did not justify the need for MQ-9 procurement quantities."  This paper holds that the Air Force Combat Command did not obtain Joint Requirements Oversight council approval to purchase the drones and didn't follow proper procedure for analyzing how many aircraft were necessary.

In 2011, drones were (and arguably still are) considered a critical part of warfighting, but in the orginal budget allowing for their purchase (created in 2007) there was only funding for 37 aircraft. In 2012, that was upped in the President's Budget to 401 to be acquired between 2007 and 2013 .

The kicker here, is that when they were asked for the analyses they had done to support this additional boatload (it's a technical term) of money, the Air Force was only able to supply "informal aircraft quantity determinations that had not been approved by JROC" and verbal explanations. That's right, there was no legitimate analysis to support the need to spend billions of taxpayer money. Not only is it frustrating, it flies (literally) in the face of DoD policy from 2000 set up to prevent this very thing from happening.

The (unapproved) aircraft number that was given was based on four planning points: 1. 24-hour coverage was required from a target. 2. Aircraft endurance was 12 hours. 3. It took one hour to get to and from the target location. 4. the 65 air patrols needed 3.3 aircraft each. Sounds reasonable until you learn that 1. 24-hour coverage was not necessary; 2. Depending on the weapons load the aircraft endurance was between 12.2 and 25.5 hours; 3. The hour to and from number was an assumption; 4. The 3.3 number was also unsupported by data and inconsistent with approved maintenance models. Factoring all the incorrect information could have lowered the required aircraft number by 13 aircraft.

That's really just the tip of the iceberg, if you combine all the test drones and National Guard drones, the total goes from 13 extra to about 46 extra, unecessary aircraft or about $8.8 billion worth. Terrifying.

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