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Air Force Pilot Shortage Worsens; 10% Of Billets Empty

Posted by Colin Clark on


CSAF Gen. David Goldfein and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson at Holloman AFB

PENTAGON: Despite a year of offering bonuses, trying to bring back former pilots and talking up the glories of being an Air Force pilot, the service’s most precious resource continues to dwindle.

At the end of fiscal 2016, the service needed 1,500 pilots. On Oct. 31 of this year, that number had swollen to about 2,000. Why, a colleague from Air Force Times asked Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, has the shortage continued to worsen despite what the service has done?

To be honest, Wilson didn’t have a good answer, which isn’t surprising given the problem. She noted that the service has been, effectively, at war for 26 years. She met an airman last week who has deployed seventeen times. “At some point,” she said, “families make the decision they just can’t sustain it any longer.”

The only good news was that front-line units haven’t been affected yet, although Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said at a briefing here that he’s only sure about that for the next year. Goldfein and Wilson both pulled out the standard talking point that the Air Force is too small for its missions, which is probably true. But it doesn’t apply to the pilot shortage since it keeps getting worse in spite of their actions. To be fair, it may take another year or so for their new measures to begin to really affect the pilot corps.

And it’s a very expensive problem. “You do the math,” Goldfein said. “It takes $10 million to raise a fighter pilot and we’re a thousand short. That’s $10 billion of capital investment that has just walked out the door.”

Proposed OCX satellite constellation

Lost In Space?

In other news, Wilson sidestepped a question about the painful actions taken to reshape the space enterprise in the National Defense Authorization Act. “Actually, the language is just out and there’s no final vote,” she told reporters. “There are a lot of caveats in there and we want to look at it very carefully.” Of course, as a former member of Congress she knows that such a sensitive issue, agreed to by the four House and Senate defense policy leaders, is unlikely to change when the bill comes to a vote.

The NDAA took aim at the heart of the Air Force’s control of space. The Principal DoD Space Advisor was eliminated . The Air Force’s new A-11 space staff is kaput. The Defense Space Council is dead. While Congress did not impose a Space Corps on the Air Force, it sent a clear message that they’ve lost the argument that they have a special claim to space and should prepare for even more bracing changes. For example, the Deputy Defense Secretary is asked to recommend who should oversee space acquisition, embodied in Major Force Program (MFP) 12.

Wilson told the press she paid her second visit last week to the National Space Defense Center (NSDC). Goldfein made a point of saying Wilson, he and the senior leadership of the Air Force held a day-long tabletop space wargame. “We’re moving forward,” he said.

What do you think?