Download eBook for Free

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 2.1 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.


Purchase Print Copy

 Format Price
Add to Cart Paperback113 pages $33.50

Research Questions

  1. What are the potential impacts of F-35A AFS consolidation on maintenance manpower requirements, costs, and readiness?
  2. Are consolidated AFS concepts able to support new and evolving combat strategies designed to better address emerging threats?
  3. If the Air Force pursues new AFS concepts, what obstacles is it likely to face and what steps might it take to improve outcomes?

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has a goal of reducing the life cycle operating and support (O&S) costs of the F-35A. Maintenance manpower is a significant driver of O&S costs, and consolidation and reorganization of maintenance career fields could reduce manpower and training costs. Such consolidations might also apply to other objectives, including reducing aircraft downtime due to maintenance, improving combat resiliency, and developing a maintenance workforce that can be employed in leaner, more-mobile adaptive basing concepts.

The authors of this report evaluate the costs and benefits of six F-35A maintenance manpower force structures that merge maintenance career fields in different ways, including two alternatives that are being explored by the USAF at the time of publication: the Blended Operational Lightning Technician (BOLT) and the Lightning Integrated Technician (LIT). In addition to quantifying impacts to O&S costs if merged Air Force Specialty (AFS) concepts are adopted, the authors discuss the applicability of such concepts to future basing concepts and identify implementation challenges.

The analysis finds that some—but not all—merged AFS concepts offer the potential to increase readiness through increased sortie-generation capability or lower O&S costs through manpower efficiencies, but significant barriers to implementation exist. If the USAF adopts merged AFS concepts, only those that are aggressive mergers of career fields—such as BOLT and LIT—should be pursued. Additionally, before adopting merged career field concepts, the USAF should further explore implementation barriers identified in the analysis, particularly those related to maintainer proficiency and training.

Key Findings

Some merged F-35A AFS concepts can benefit the Air Force, but careful evaluation is needed to determine which concepts will work in the long term

  • For some merged AFS concepts, cost-saving potential in terms of fewer maintenance personnel needed is greater than the increase in training costs. If manpower is not reduced, merged AFS concepts increase the sortie-generation potential, with a small O&S cost increase.
  • Concepts that aggressively consolidate AFSs (such as BOLT and LIT) have cost and readiness benefits even when applied to only part of the force. Smaller consolidations do not offer enough benefits to justify the challenges of implementation.
  • Merged AFS concepts could contribute to readiness for integrated basing concepts and agile operations by better enabling operations from smaller footprints and resisting performance degradation in high-casualty environments.
  • There are implementation concerns for merged AFSs that must be addressed, particularly personnel-retention issues, cultural resistance to implementation, and training.


  • If the USAF pursues a merged AFS force structure for F-35A maintainers, only aggressive consolidations, such as BOLT and LIT—which have cost and readiness benefits—should be considered.
  • Ensure adequacy of training to provide the required knowledge, proficiency, and experience necessary to conduct the broader set of tasks required of maintainers.
  • Invest in change management to facilitate smoother transition to new AFS concepts.
  • Invest in strategies to retain maintainers, particularly at the senior level, who are trained into merged AFS concepts.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Air Force and conducted within the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This report is part of the RAND 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.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.