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Tue, Sep 26, 2023

USAF to Fall Short of Fiscal 2023 Pilot Production Goal

Aim High, but Compensate for Bullet-Drop …

The United States Air Force will fall approximately 120-aviators short of its fiscal-year 2023 pilot recruitment and training goals. The service ascribes the shortfall, perhaps apocryphally, to “mechanical issues with training aircraft.”

As fiscal 2023 draws to its 30 September close, the USAF anticipates finishing the period having pinned wings on only 1,300 of the 1,470 new pilots it aspired to graduate over the preceding 12-months. So stated 19th Air Force spokesman Benjamin Faske.

For nearly a decade, the Air Force has averaged a yearly pilot production rate of some 1,300 new aviators. Recent failures to maintain the described cadence have been attributed to a plethora of issues ranging from delays in deliveries of new engines for the service’s long-in-the-tooth T-38 Talon trainer jets to a lack of qualified ground and flight instructors.

While the aforementioned fall within the boundaries of possibility, military analysts point out the U.S. military services—excepting the Marine Corps and Space Force—are currently contending with recruitment deficits not seen since the 197 institution of an all-volunteer force.

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Qualified Military Available study estimated only 23-percent of Americans ages 17–24—the age group representing ninety-percent of U.S. military recruits—were eligible for military service. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites physical barriers, such as obesity, as the primary reason for ineligibility. The agency notes just over one-in-three young adults is too heavy to serve in the U.S. military. Secondary disqualification criteria include criminal records and endemically low scores on the compulsory Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test.

Beyond somatic and cognitive barriers to service, U.S. military recruiting has been adversely impacted by negative public perception of the Biden administration’s hasty and inexplicable withdrawal from Afghanistan and the DOD’s mandating of COVID vaccines looked upon by large numbers of laymen and medical professionals as unsafe.

In spring 2022, the Defense Department’s Office of People Analytics (OPA) polled 16–24-year-olds vis-à-vis the likelihood of their joining the military. Confronted with the question: In the next few years, how likely is it you’ll be joining the military?, two-percent of respondents replied Definitely, eight-percent replied Probably, thirty-percent replied Probably Not, and 59-percent replied Definitely Not. Considered in the aggregate, 89-percent of American youths declared themselves unlikely to consider military service.

The prevailing paucity of eligible recruits has compelled the U.S. Army to broadly and significantly relax induction standards. In 2022, the DOD allowed more than seven-hundred recruits manifesting behavioral disorders, specifically ADHD, to enlist without waivers. In the event subject recruits perform nominally, the DOD will likely further relax standards, opening military service to individuals presenting with more serious psychiatric pathologies.

The U.S. Air Force, since 2020, has contended with a chronic pilot shortage. During a March 2023 briefing, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall conceded: "We do have a [pilot] shortage. We're having to try to improve the efficiency of the pipeline to get more people in. The reserve and Guard equation is a little more complicated, but we do have some shortages there that we're trying to address as well."

In addition to signing bonuses and promotions, the Air Force has endeavored to retain pilots by dint of the Legacy Aviation Bonus Program, an initiative that builds upon pilots’ previous years' compensation packages for purpose of retaining experienced, flight-rated officers. Specific communities of pilots—Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) pilots, air-battle managers, and combat systems officers—are eligible for monetary incentives in exchange for active-duty service commitments. Fiscal 2023’s Legacy Aviation Bonus Program includes an increase in the monetary cap from $35,000-per-year up to $50,000-per-year for eligible officers. The program applies to aviators with an Undergraduate Flying Training Active Duty Service Commitment expiring in fiscal 2023 or earlier.

The USAF has set its fiscal 2024 pilot production goal at 1,500 new aviators.



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