Cover: Improving the Effectiveness of Air Force Squadron Commanders

Improving the Effectiveness of Air Force Squadron Commanders

Assessing Squadron Commander Responsibilities, Preparation, and Resources

Published Apr 11, 2018

by John A. Ausink, Miriam Matthews, Raymond E. Conley, Nelson Lim


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Research Questions

  1. What are the main issues related to responsibilities, preparation, and resources that could affect the ability of squadron commanders to succeed as they prioritize their responsibilities and manage associated risk?
  2. What are the key factors behind concerns that squadron performance may be degraded by an imbalance between squadron commander workload and resources to accomplish it?
  3. How can the Air Force address any gaps in preparation or resources that must be closed to help posture squadron commanders for success?

A top priority for Gen David Goldfein, chief of staff of the Air Force, is to revitalize the squadron as the warfighting core of the Air Force. Concerns associated with revitalizing the squadron include understanding the major responsibilities and tasks of the squadron commander and how they might vary by squadron type; whether squadron commanders have adequate preparation, resources, and accountability mechanisms to fulfill their responsibilities; what gaps exist; what improvements can be made; and how the impact of these improvements can be measured. A previous review of Air Force Instructions and our discussions with commanders indicate that squadron commanders have numerous duties with which they must comply. Commanders find that ancillary duties that are not properly resourced can interfere with mission performance. Also, commanders we interviewed noted they felt least prepared for the administrative and disciplinary responsibilities required of commanders. Many of those we interviewed also expressed concerns about squadron manning levels and the need for more personnel. These concerns pertained not only to the total number of people in the squadron but also to the distribution of people with the right skills and experience. The present study used a variety of data sources and interviews with 75 squadron, group, and wing commanders to develop recommendations for how the Air Force can address squadron commander responsibilities, improve commander preparation, and monitor resources better.

Key Findings

Squadron Commanders Find Duties That Are Not Recognized and Not Resourced Appropriately Can Interfere with Mission Performance

  • Commanders expressed concerns regarding addressing multiple taskers and administrative duties.
  • Speaking of the burden of "additional duties," commanders often are not referencing the responsibilities the Air Force officially designates as additional duties. Rather, they are often referring to other duties they recognize as being necessary to maintain the squadron but for which they believe they do not have sufficient resources.

Commander Preparation Can Vary, and Commanders Want More Information on Elements of How to Command

  • Potential preparation differences include rates of in-residence attendance for intermediate developmental education, assignments to headquarters, and experiences in operations-officer-like positions before assuming command.
  • There is little overlap in the topics covered in the squadron commander preparation courses offered by major commands.
  • Areas in which squadron commanders expressed interest in additional training included more information on how to command, administrative requirements, and disciplinary issues.

Commanders Are Concerned About Squadron Manning Levels and the Need for More Personnel

  • They expressed concerns not only about the total number of people in the squadron but also about the distribution of people with the right skills and experience.
  • Squadron commanders recognize Air Force efforts to increase commander support staff manning and often spoke in positive terms about the additional staffing. Some expressed concerns about defining the duties for the new personnel, the amount of time to fill those positions, and the amount of time to train new personnel assigned to those positions.


  • Continue to review Air Force Instructions (AFIs), and record the number of responsibilities levied on squadron commanders. Eliminate responsibilities that are not essential.
  • Evaluate the level of waiver authorities within AFIs to determine if authorities at a lower level than currently listed could be allowed to grant waivers with minimal risk.
  • Major commands, Headquarters Air Force, and functionals should track information regarding the number of taskers they disseminate and readily provide this information to commanders.
  • Increase standardization of major command squadron preparation courses.
  • Provide additional training to squadron commanders on Air Force personnel management systems, disciplinary procedures, and money management.
  • Provide promising Air Force personnel with a diversity of leadership experiences and opportunities to work with commanders.
  • The Air Force should identify resource categories of interest and establish resource standards in those categories.
  • More regularly review and update manpower standards to reflect current responsibilities.
  • Provide guidelines regarding the responsibilities new commanders' support staff should assume and the length of time they will need to become fully functional.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Director, Force Development, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, and conducted by the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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