Cover: Projecting Air Force Rated Officer Inventory Across the Total Force

Projecting Air Force Rated Officer Inventory Across the Total Force

Total Force Blue Line Model for Rated Officer Management

Published Sep 4, 2019

by Tara L. Terry, Jeremy M. Eckhause, Michael McGee, James H. Bigelow, Paul Emslie


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Research Questions

  1. Given the current set of requirements and planned production levels, will each rated career field be healthy (as measured by the annual difference of requirements and inventory) under realistic retention scenarios?
  2. What production levels would eliminate manning shortages (if absorption were not directly addressed)?

It has become more complex for the U.S. Air Force to manage its rated officer population, due to the lengthy and costly training pipelines, declining availability of aircraft to train the rated officer force, and the effects of external factors that affect the retention of Air Force rated officers.

The Air Force has always had to manage the rated officers in the regular Air Force, balancing the flows into the force, distributing them among the various rated officer career fields and aircraft, and monitoring the flows out of the force. However, it has not had to manage the flows into the two reserve components, the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard, quite as diligently because the supply of rated officers into those components was both abundant and cheap. Recent changes, such as the overall reduction in the number of aircraft, the pending elimination of the A-10 aircraft, the arrival of the F-35 aircraft, and the increase in civilian pilot hiring from the major airlines, have made it more challenging to manage rated officers in all components.

As a result, it has become increasingly important to adopt an overall — or Total Force — perspective on the rated officer force. In this report, the authors document efforts to develop a long-term career field planning model for all rated officers across the Total Force — the Total Force Blue Line model — that can be used to assess policy alternatives and inform decisionmaking in managing the rated officer force.

Key Findings

  • The authors describe the development of the TFBL model and results of model excursions that illustrate how the model functions. These excursions include two types of retention scenarios, the impact of production on pilot inventory levels, and the impact of optimizing production levels.
  • The results showed that reallocating production while maintaining the planned Total Force production level has a significant effect on reducing the shortage in the regular Air Force while combating lower retention levels when accounting for major airline hiring.


  • Model results allow policymakers to determine what annual production levels would be needed to meet the requirement annually or present a timeline to reduce the shortage and eventually meet the requirement. With larger modifications, formal training unit constraints and absorption constraints could be introduced into the modeling.
  • Given the current Air Force pilot shortage, increased production must be sought now to improve the chance of mitigating increased losses due to the influence of increased major airline hiring. In addition, a reallocation of production reduces the shortage to almost the same degree as does a more optimistic scenario of better retention combined with currently planned production levels.
  • The ability to vary assumptions in the model can provide valuable information to Air Force leadership as new initiatives are being considered. As changes in requirements are anticipated, the model can help estimate levels of production that will be needed in future years to inform planning for future training needs. Understanding the implications of different retention patterns provides insight into the importance of monitoring retention and devising appropriate incentives to retain enough rated officers to stay in the Air Force longer. These and other analyses can be conducted using the model to inform Air Force decisionmakers as they strive to obtain or maintain the health of the rated officer force.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the United States Air Force and conducted by the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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