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Research Questions

  1. What is the relationship between the "rescuability" of downed aircrews and time?
  2. How can the "rescuability window" of downed personnel be derived?
  3. What factors influence the rescue timeline?

Recovering downed airmen is a critical task for the U.S. Air Force, which devotes considerable resources — including personnel, equipment, and training — to ensure that it can carry out this task. In light of the impending drawdown of forces and the pressure to reduce defense budgets, the Air Force has been reassessing its personnel recovery (PR) force structure, along with other organizational aspects. It asked RAND Project AIR FORCE to assist in this reassessment with an examination of the operational risk associated with Air Force PR. Specifically, the Air Force sought "to refine the metric used to assess PR's operational risk, [which] is the degree of likelihood of mission success."

To this end, the research described here quantifies the "rescuability window" of downed aircrews. The current research quantifies the relationship between rescuability and time so that the most cost-effective options for increasing the rescuability of downed personnel can be pursued. The implications of the findings are also summarized in this report.

Key Findings

The "Rescuability Timeline" Can Be Divided into Three Distinct Temporal Regions That Correspond to Aircrew Survivability After a Downing Event.

  • Survival in the first region, comprising the first few moments, largely depends on the survivability of the aircraft and the crew's ability to avoid immediate capture. In this region, personnel have about a 50-percent chance of surviving the downing and avoiding immediate capture.
  • The second region extends out to two hours. Survival in this region is dependent on the individual's ability to avoid capture.
  • Personnel who survive and evade capture longer two hours enter the third temporal region. Here, the rescuability curve is relatively flat, suggesting that the longer a person has avoided capture, the more likely he or she is to be able to continue to avoid capture.


  • The U.S. Air Force should use the rescuability timeline developed in this research to compare the cost-effectiveness of various personnel recovery assets and tactics.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was sponsored by Maj Gen Scott Zobrist, Director of Plans, Programs, and Requirements, Headquarters Air Combat Command, and Brig Gen Jeffrey Taliaferro, Deputy Director, Plans and Programs, Directorate of Plans, Programs and Requirements, Headquarters Air Combat Command, and conducted within the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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