Cover: Evaluating an Operator Physical Fitness Test Prototype for Tactical Air Control Party and Air Liaison Officers

Evaluating an Operator Physical Fitness Test Prototype for Tactical Air Control Party and Air Liaison Officers

A Preliminary Analysis of Test Implementation

Published Jul 11, 2018

by Sean Robson, Tracy C. Krueger, Jennifer L. Cerully, Stephanie Pezard, Laura Raaen, Nahom M. Beyene


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Research Questions

  1. Who are the relevant stakeholders for the Operator–Prototype Test Battery (O-PTB)?
  2. Which topics affect successful O-PTB implementation?

The U.S. Air Force asked the RAND Corporation to assist its development and validation of gender-neutral tests and standards for battlefield airmen (BA) specialties. The Air Force has conducted an extensive validation study of occupational relevance of physical fitness tests and standards. Following the fitness test validation study, one enlisted specialty (Tactical Air Control Party [TACP]) and one officer BA specialty (Air Liaison Officer [ALO]) moved forward with an implementation plan to further evaluate a set of recommended tests and continuation standards. This report describes RAND's assistance to the Air Force on two fronts: (1) conducting a preliminary evaluation of potential issues and concerns that might influence implementation effectiveness and (2) developing a framework for evaluating the implementation of occupationally relevant and specific tests and standards. This work provides the foundation for ongoing review and evaluation of Air Force fitness tests and standards, which are designed to ensure that airmen are capable of performing critical physical tasks associated with their assigned specialties.

Key Findings

  • Overall, TACP specialists and ALOs indicated consistently strong, positive support for the O-PTB. TACP specialists and ALOs generally felt that each test was administered to all operators in the same way and that they knew how they performed relative to the standard.
  • Some TACP specialists and ALOs indicated concern about the potential for injury for the Trap Bar Deadlift, and some physical training leaders (PTLs) expressed concern that operators could be injured while taking the test battery. No new injuries were reported in preparation for or during administration of the tests.
  • TACP specialists and ALOs were most frustrated by the Extended Cross Knee Crunch and the Medicine Ball Toss, and 15 percent of PTLs indicated that operators seemed frustrated by the test.
  • Eight percent of TACP specialists and ALOs and 12 percent of PTLs did not feel that the test battery would be fair for all TACP specialists regardless of rank, age, stature, gender, or race/ethnicity.
  • TACP specialists, ALOs, and PTLs felt that it was important that test administrators be other TACP specialists; in contrast, career field managers (CFMs) emphasized that the test administrator could be anyone.
  • Other BA CFMs (i.e., not TACP or ALO) expressed strong concerns over logistical issues regarding test administration (e.g., time, equipment cost). They recognized deficiencies in the Physical Ability and Stamina Test and expressed interest in addressing these shortcomings through a more collaborative effort.


  • Communicate results broadly throughout the TACP and ALO communities; disseminate results to other BA leaders.
  • Test administrators were being observed and had just received training on how to administer; therefore, follow-up evaluations should be conducted to ensure consistent administration continues to be followed.
  • Consider (1) further training on proper form and technique, (2) increasing the opportunities to practice the tests and receive feedback, and/or (3) updating test administration instructions.
  • Deliver additional communication about the history of the test development process, how tests were selected, and how they link to job and mission-related requirements.
  • Consider the advantages and disadvantages of various test administrator characteristics.
  • Examine the time required, on average, to administer the prototype test battery and the cost to purchase all equipment for a squadron of 100.
  • Increase the frequency of communication among CFMs, commanders, strength and conditioning coaches, and the Air Force Exercise Science Unit. Consider trade-offs between scientific validity and other career-field needs, including feasibility, cost, and perceived utility.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was cosponsored by the Air Force Director of Military Force Management Policy, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, the Vice Commander in Air Education and Training Command, the Vice Commander in Air Force Special Operations Command, and the Directorate of Air and Space Operations and conducted by the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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