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The Air Force Is Facing A 'Quiet Crisis' Of Manpower, But Recruitment Isn't The Problem
The Air Force's ranks grew during the 2016 fiscal year, but as of April this year the service was still more than 1,500 pilots short of the 20,300 it is mandated to have.
"We are in a crisis," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in late September. "If we don’t find a way to turn this around, our ability to defend the nation is compromised."
The pilot shortage has been a problem for some time — Goldfein also called it a "quiet crisis" in summer 2016 — and stems from a number of sources, but it doesn't appear that getting pilots to sign up is one of them.
First Lt. Greg Johnston and Capt. RJ Bergman fly their UH-1N Iroquois over a mountain range near Malmstrom Air Force Base, January 27, 2015.U.S. Air Force photo
"In fact, the Air Force can see more pilots coming up in the pipeline than it has room to produce, so it's not a recruitment problem. It's actually a production and absorption and retention problem," Lara Seligman, Pentagon editor for Aviation Week, said during a recent edition of Check 6, the Aviation Week podcast.
"Due to a combination of snowballing factors — budget cuts, longer deployments, drawdowns going back as far as the Cold War, and a recent spike in commercial-airline hiring — the Air Force can no longer train enough people to keep up with demand for the field and to keep pilots from leaving," Seligman added.
Facing ongoing combat operations for much of the last 20 years, the Air Force has focused on keeping experienced pilots in combat roles, but one consequence of that has been a lack of pilots to act as training instructors.
This lack of instructors has created a bottleneck in the training pipeline, leaving introductory-level pilots with limited opportunities to advance, Seligman said. This affects the number of pilots available to fly advanced aircraft, and it also leads to frustration among airmen, who may leave for more lucrative work in the private sector.
While the Air Force has taken some steps to expand overall recruiting, requirement standards for pilots have not been loosened, but the service is looking to make training and other assignment practices more flexible. (A stop-loss policy has also been broached.)
One step toward getting more pilots through the pipeline "would be outsourcing some training to universities or commercial companies," Seligman said, noting that such a measure might not work for fighter-pilot training but could work for mobility pilots or other non-fighter roles.
A Textron Scorpion experimental light-attack aircraft at Holloman Air Force Base, July 31, 2017.U.S. Air Force photo
The Air Force is also reportedly considering outsourcing "red air" aircraft duties, bringing in privately owned planes to pose as rival aircraft during training exercises, freeing up Air Force aircraft for other uses. The service is also looking to form additional training squadrons, but that effort is for now limited by the lack of training pilots, Seligman said.
In 2016, the Air Force trained 1,100 pilots, including 235 fighter pilots. "This year they're ramping up, and the output's going to be closer to 1,200, but they want to ramp up to 1,600," Seligman added. "That's the requirement to meet the demand signal. But right now they're just completely maxed out in terms of aircraft, in terms of runways — just in terms of resources."
"We're maximizing the use of our air frames to the fullest extent that we can right now," Air Force Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, head of Air Education and Training Command, said last month. "We can only produce so many flying training sorties per day, and that’s going to be exceeded" to hit that 1,600-pilot goal.
The light-attack aircraft that the Air Force is evaluating could help alleviate that resource problem and reduce the strain on some combat airframes, like the F-15s and A-10s leading the air war against ISIS.
The Air Force is also reviewing other administrative, deployment, and training requirements to not only free up qualified pilots and aircraft, but also improve quality of life for service members and improve retention.
The Voluntary Rated Return to Active Duty, or VRRAD, program, would let qualified retired pilots to return and fill "critical-rated staff positions," allowing active-duty pilots to stay with units that need them for missions.
The Air Force has also gotten approval to raise bonus limits and plans to offer bonuses to more airmen in the coming fiscal year. It has increased pay for some officers and enlisted personnel for the first time since 1999.
"It's not about the money, the Air Force says. It's really about the experience," Seligman said. "So I think they're focusing more on opening the pipeline and things like shorter deployments, as opposed to money, that will really make the pilots' lives better."
The service has appointed the first general officer, Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski, to lead its aircrew crisis task force, which was established earlier this year to address the pilot shortage
"This is a wicked problem," Koscheski said in September. "The problem is not only ever changing. It fights back. You can’t just fix one aspect. They’re interrelated."
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Retired Army Master Sgt. Mark Allen has died 10 years after he was shot in the head while searching for deserter Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan.
Allen died on Saturday at the age of 46, according to funeral information posted online.
For U.S. service members who have fought alongside the Kurds, President Donald Trump's decision to approve repositioning U.S. forces in Syria ahead of Turkey's invasion is a naked betrayal of valued allies.
"I am ashamed for the first time in my career," one unnamed special operator told Fox News Jennifer Griffin.
In a Twitter thread that went viral, Griffin wrote the soldier told her the Kurds were continuing to support the United States by guarding tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners even though Turkey had nullified an arrangement under which U.S. and Turkish troops were conducting joint patrols in northeastern Syria to allow the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, to withdraw.
"The Kurds are sticking by us," the soldier told Griffin. "No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday he and the Pentagon will comply with House Democrats' impeachment inquiry subpoena, but it'll be on their own schedule.
"We will do everything we can to cooperate with the Congress," Esper said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "Just in the last week or two, my general counsel sent out a note — as we typically do in these situations — to ensure documents are retained."
Most of the U.S. troops in Syria are being moved out of the country as Turkish forces and their Arab allies push further into Kurdish territory than originally expected, Task & Purpose has learned.
Roughly 1,000 U.S. troops are withdrawing from Syria, leaving a residual force of between 100 and 150 service members at the Al Tanf garrison, a U.S. official said.
"I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday's edition of CBS News' "Face the Nation."'
More than 700 women and children affiliated with ISIS escape Kurdish prison camp after Turkish shelling
BEIRUT/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Women affiliated with Islamic State and their children fled en masse from a camp where they were being held in northern Syria on Sunday after shelling by Turkish forces in a five-day-old offensive, the region's Kurdish-led administration said.
Turkey's cross-border attack in northern Syria against Kurdish forces widened to target the town of Suluk which was hit by Ankara's Syrian rebel allies. There were conflicting accounts on the outcome of the fighting.
Turkey is facing threats of possible sanctions from the United States unless it calls off the incursion. Two of its NATO allies, Germany and France, have said they are halting weapons exports to Turkey. The Arab League has denounced the operation.