Increasing Fighter Pilot Retention with Improved Basing Decisions

by Russell H. Williams

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The Air Force currently faces a substantial pilot shortage. Two decades of elevated operational tempos, tight budgets, and robust airline hiring have motivated pilots to leave active duty service in record numbers, eroding the Service's stock of experienced aviators. The global recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic may have temporarily subdued commercial airlines' demand for military trained pilots, but these conditions won't last forever, and soon the Air Force will once again need to retain experienced aircrew when the airlines are hiring. This dissertation leverages a value-added model to identify changes to Air Force basing policy that could improve fighter pilot retention outcomes.

Using a value-added model to analyze twenty years of fighter pilot retention data highlights significant variation in retention outcomes at installations across the USAF's basing posture. Comparing retention outcomes to the communities surrounding military installations can demonstrate pilots' revealed installation preferences. Investigating recent retention trends at prospective F-35 bases yields insights into the potential retention consequences of future basing decisions.

This dissertation recommends that the Air Force continue to gather as much data as possible about pilots' personal and professional preferences, so that individuals can be matched with tailored, retention improving assignments. Next, the Air Force should use these preferences to more fully understand pilots' revealed assignment and installation preferences. Lastly, these preferences should be incorporated into the Air Force's Strategic Basing Process to move the Service towards a basing posture that passively supports pilot retention with every basing decision.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Fighter Pilot Management

  • Chapter Three

    Basing Policy and Pilot Retention

  • Chapter Four

    Modeling Pilot Retention Decisions

  • Chapter Five

    Installations' Effects on Fighter Pilot Retention

  • Chapter Six

    Opportunities Presented by the F-35 Transition

  • Chapter Seven

    Conclusion, Recommendations, and Opportunities for Future Research

  • Appendix A

    Comparing High- and Low- ALR Installations

  • Appendix B

    Complete Analysis of Individual Bases

Research conducted by

This document was submitted as a dissertation in September 2020 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in public policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The faculty committee that supervised and approved the dissertation consisted of Bart Bennett (Chair), Ronald McGarvey, Patrick Mills, and Isaac Opper.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Dissertation series. Pardee RAND dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a Pardee RAND faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

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