The U.S. Air Force is facing a shortage of more than 1,000 active-duty fighter pilots, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday.
By fiscal year 2017, the Air Force was short 1,005 active-duty fighter pilots, about 27 percent of the nearly 3,750 fighter pilots authorized, the GAO report introduced, according to the Air Force Times. The current shortage appears to be the lowest in over a decade.
Between fiscal year 2006 and fiscal year 2013, the Air Force maintained active-duty pilot manning levels of at least 92 percent, and in 2011, the Air Force was actually overmanned.
Pilot manning levels began dropping significantly in fiscal year 2014 in the wake of Obama-era defense spending cuts. The decline occurred amid increasingly-higher authorization levels.
The U.S. Air Force is not the only undermanned branch, as Marine Corps aviation forces were only 76 percent manned by the end of last year, and the Navy was short 136 pilots, around 26 percent of the total authorized amount. The Marine Corps reportedly considers all pilot manning levels below 85 percent “unhealthy.”
While there are gaps in operational fighter pilot positions, the services are ensuring that all deploying squadrons are fully staffed, often by pulling fighter pilots from a decreasing number of squadrons and extending deployments.
These measures are temporary solutions at best, though, as they but great strain on the U.S. armed services.
Senior pilots are being transferred to other squadrons to fill junior positions, limiting their ability to train new pilots and bolster the ranks, the Air Force Times reports. Qualified pilots are being deployed more frequently, leading to increased dissatisfaction and making military pilots more likely to opt for private-sector opportunities over re-enlistment.
Furthermore, decreases in available aircraft make it much more difficult for pilots to meet their flight hour and training targets. The current stop-gap measures stress the military, making it more likely that these trends, if they continue as the GOA suspects they may, will sooner or later impact deploying squadrons and harm U.S. combat readiness.
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