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Research Questions

  1. How would proposed changes affect the Air Force's ability to support both surge and steady-state contingency operations?
  2. How would proposed changes affect the Air Force's ability to absorb the necessary number of F-35 pilots?
  3. How would proposed changes affect the Air Force's requirements for maintenance manpower and support equipment?
  4. How would proposed changes affect the Air Force's requirements for new infrastructure across the set of existing F-16 and A-10 bases?
  5. How would proposed changes affect the Air Force's ability to develop future senior leaders out of the pool of fighter pilots?

As currently planned, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most costly aircraft acquisition program in Defense Department history. One approach to ensuring program affordability could be to increase the number of Primary Aerospace Vehicles Authorized (PAA) per combat-coded squadron, with a resulting reduction in the number of F-35 combat-coded squadrons. RAND explored the impact of increasing the PAA per squadron, adjusting the mix of PAA across the Active and Reserve Components, and adjusting the percentage of the Active Component PAA assigned to home-station locations in the continental United States.

Researchers considered 28 beddown alternatives, with a maximum of 36 PAA per squadron, and determined that all beddowns could satisfy surge deployment requirements and most could also satisfy rotational requirements within specified deploy-to-dwell ratios. Increasing squadron size was determined to significantly reduce (a) the flying costs necessary to achieve pilot absorption requirements, (b) maintenance manpower requirements, and (c) total support equipment procurement costs, while little additional infrastructure capacity would be required under any of the 28 basing alternatives considered. Additional analysis suggested that assignment policy would have more effect on leader development than either squadron size or the active-reserve mix.

Key Findings

All 28 Alternatives Considered Satisfy Surge Requirements

  • All beddown alternatives were found to have sufficient squadrons to satisfy surge squadron requirements.
  • Further, most alternatives satisfy rotational requirements within specified deploy-to-dwell ratios.

Achieving Pilot Absorption Conditions Will Require Change and Additional Resources

  • Squadron size and active-reserve mix affected experience levels in reserve units.
  • Squadron size effects could have a significant impact on pilot absorption flying costs.

Savings Are Attainable in Manpower and Support

  • Increasing squadron size reduces maintenance manpower requirements.
  • Squadron size has a significant impact on total support equipment procurement costs.
  • Utilizing current F-16 and A-10 bases, little additional capacity would be required under the 28 basing alternatives considered.

Assignment Policy Affects Leader Development More Than Squadron Size or Active-Reserve Mix

  • F-35 basing alternatives would have a slight effect on the AC's capacity for producing future senior leaders with targeted combinations of experience.
  • There will be some constraints with respect to fighter pilot leadership development, aside from the impacts of squadron size in terms of developing preferred characteristics.
  • The Air Force would still be able to produce at least as many well-qualified candidates than have actually been promoted to general officer during recent years.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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