Cover: Evaluating the Impact of a Total Force Service Commitment Policy on Air Force Pilot Manning

Evaluating the Impact of a Total Force Service Commitment Policy on Air Force Pilot Manning

An Exploratory Application of Inventory Modeling

Published Sep 18, 2018

by David Schulker, Tara L. Terry


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Research Question

  1. Could a Total Force service commitment policy reduce or eliminate the Air Force's projected pilot shortage?

There is a high level of concern among senior Air Force leaders about projected pilot shortages, which are so severe they have been labeled an "aircrew crisis." The Air Force asked RAND Project AIR FORCE to evaluate whether a Total Force service commitment (TFSC) policy could reduce or eliminate these shortages. Such a policy would replace the current active duty service commitment and reserve service commitment of 10 years with a TFSC longer than 10 years. The new TFSC policy would also permit the level of cross-flow between the Regular Air Force and reserve components that best addresses Total Force shortages.

The authors used a modified version of RAND's Total Force Blue Line model to project future pilot numbers under different assumptions about the TFSC policy. The model results show that a TFSC policy could reduce, but not eliminate, shortages if production plans are unalterable; if certain production adjustments are possible, the benefits of longer service commitments become less important. Moreover, the results paint a clear picture that increasing production (and incorporating new pilots into operational units and affording them sufficient flying time to gain experience) is a required way forward in addressing this aircrew crisis.

Key Findings

Under Planned Pilot Production, a Total Force Service Commitment Policy Reduces, but Does Not Eliminate, Shortages

  • Most future shortages occur in the fighter pilot community.
  • TFSC policies cannot close the fighter pilot gap.
  • A combination of retention improvements and a modified Palace Chase program prevents mobility pilot shortages.
  • A TFSC policy reduces Total Force shortages but sacrifices reserve component health for improvements in Regular Air Force health.

If Pilot Production Can Be Allocated Across Communities and Components, with a Reallocation Toward Higher Fighter Pilot Production, Requirements Can Be Met Without Increased Commitment Length

  • Additional capacity to produce fighter pilots is enough to end shortages without increasing commitment length (but does not address the issue of incorporating new pilots into operational units and affording them sufficient flying time to gain experience).
  • Reallocated production with a 10-year commitment meets all requirements before FY40.

General Conclusions

  • Whether a TFSC policy can bring inventories into alignment hinges on the size of retention gains relative to shortages.
  • Production adjustments are necessary to fully address long-run shortages.
  • The timing and size of TFSC impacts make it unlikely to play a major role in addressing the aircrew crisis.
  • Persistent shortages create a trade-off between Regular Air Force and reserve component health.
  • Affiliation flexibility significantly affects reserve component shortfalls.
  • Other potential limitations of a TFSC policy could partly offset inventory improvements.

Research conducted by

This research was commissioned by the U.S. Air Force and conducted by the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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