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Research Questions

  1. Is there room for a WO component or an ATT in the pilot workforce pyramid?
  2. How would WO or ATT officer retention compare with that of officers in a traditional pilot track?
  3. How would WO or ATT costs differ from current CO costs?
  4. Would either the WO or ATT alternative introduce force management risks?

This report documents analyses to help the U.S. Air Force Director of Military Force Management Policy respond to a request from congressional staff to consider reimplementation of a warrant officer (WO) program in the Air Force, specifically to fill pilot requirements, or an alternative, an aviation technical track (ATT) for commissioned officers (COs). Either alternative would supplement the traditional pilot career path in a manner intended to enhance force sustainment and thus help to reduce pilot shortages at least cost. Only one alternative — the ATT — was found likely to achieve this objective.

Any shift in management of the Air Force's pilot workforce must be evaluated with consideration of its centrality to the Air Force's core missions and the difficulty of keeping pilot production, absorption, retention, and overall inventory sustainment in balance. Pilot production and absorption are difficult to expand and are often constrained below levels needed to meet requirements. Retention is very sensitive to extrinsic factors, particularly major airline hiring.

This report draws from RAND Project AIR FORCE capabilities and existing pilot models. In brief, the authors found that structural considerations would permit either a WO component or an ATT of the officer pilot force, sized at about 1,000 pilots out of a total requirement of a little under 13,000. Most importantly, the WO option would be expected to reduce pilot retention, while the ATT would be expected to increase it. Cost considerations, although minor, are favorable for both alternatives. Both present risks that merit more consideration than were possible in the analyses yet performed.

Key Finding

Because the fundamental objective of either supplemental path is to enhance retention, particularly when demand for commercial pilots is high, the ATT is clearly favored.

  • Both alternatives would yield modest cost savings, and both would present risks yet to be fully evaluated. Not least significant is that a WO program would require development and management of new processes and policies across the personnel life cycle — recruiting, accessions, compensation, retention, utilization, promotion, and transition. An ATT would require much less sweeping adjustments, most of which would be managed through creation of a new competitive category.

Recommendations

  • Limit time spent in nonflying assignments for field-grade officers (FGOs) in the traditional track to 40 percent, yielding a recommended ATT size of about 1,000 officers.
  • Have the ATT focus on FGOs.
  • Develop a program that is open to O-4s and O-5s, with entry permitted after selection for promotion to either of those grades but prior to in-the-promotion-zone (IPZ) consideration to the next-higher grade.
  • Give officers who choose the ATT the latitude to rejoin the traditional track.
  • Set four years on station as a minimum level of assignment stability, with exceptions for such conditions as mission changes affecting an ATT officer's base of assignment.
  • Allow voluntary assignment of ATT officers to nonflying jobs.
  • Do not identify specific pilot manpower authorizations as ATT billets.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    A Warrant Officer Component

  • Chapter Three

    An Aviation Technical Track

  • Chapter Four

    Conclusions

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Director of Military Force Management Policy and conducted by the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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