Military Pilots: Observations on Current Issues

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-03-04.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                          United States General Accounting Office

GAO                       Testimony
                          Before the Subcommittee on Military Personnel
                          Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives

For Release on Delivery
10:00 a.m., EST
                          MILITARY PILOTS
March 4, 1999

                          Observations on Current
                          Statement of Mark E. Gebicke, Director
                          Military Operations and Capabilities Issues, National
                          Security and International Affairs Division

          Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

          Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to discuss our preliminary
          findings and observations from work on pilot shortages, which we are
          doing at the request of this Subcommittee. Pilot shortages pose significant
          challenges because each pilot replacement, according to service data, costs
          the Department of Defense (DOD) up to $6 million in training and requires
          years of investment in training time and experience.

          Today, I will discuss (1) the validity of pilot requirements, (2) the extent of
          the reported shortages and where they exist, (3) the key factors
          contributing to pilot shortages, (4) the services’ plans for correcting such
          shortfalls, and (5) other steps that could be taken to address the problem.
          My focus will be on pilots in the Air Force and the Navy, because these two
          services are reporting the most critical shortages. Let me emphasize that
          this information is preliminary in nature in that we are continuing to
          explore these issues.

Summary   The extent of pilot shortages is unclear due to questions over the validity of
          pilot requirements and the availability of the data on which the shortages
          are based. Currently, the services are reporting that they are able to fill all
          of their operational flying positions but are unable to fill all of their
          nonflying staff positions that are designated for qualified pilots. The
          seriousness of these shortages is unclear because the services have not
          made comprehensive assessments of their nonflying positions to determine
          how many of these staff positions might not have to be filled by pilots. The
          services report that 20 to 40 percent of their pilot positions are designated
          as nonflying positions. Notwithstanding difficulties with the requirements,
          the Air Force projects that its greatest shortfall, particularly within its
          fighter community, will occur in fiscal year 2007 and then taper off. Navy
          data indicate that the Navy may have already experienced its greatest pilot
          shortfall, particularly within its helicopter community, in fiscal year 1998,
          and that its pilot shortage will gradually dissipate although not disappear.

          Two key factors have contributed to the reported pilot shortfalls. First,
          during the drawdown in the 1990s, the services reduced their pilot
          accessions. This action has unintentionally resulted in insufficient
          numbers of pilots to support the current force and is driving the need to
          retain more pilots. Second, pilots are unhappy with a number of quality-of-
          life factors that are causing them to consider leaving.

          Page 1                                                       GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
             The issue of pilot shortfalls is multi-faceted, and no single step will solve
             the problem. The services are taking steps to address the shortfalls. For
             example, all of the services are filling their flying positions first and then
             their nonflying positions on a priority basis. The Air Force is trying to
             encourage pilots to stay until retirement through a new initiative to ease
             the transition from military service to civilian employment. The Army has
             recently begun to offer a bonus to its Apache helicopter pilots. The
             services will need to continue to explore a variety of innovative approaches
             to alleviate any projected shortfalls. Among the possible solutions, the
             services may wish to review the aviator bonus system and pilot
             assignments. However, before the services take additional steps, they need
             to (1) reassess whether pilots are truly needed to fill all of the nonflying
             positions currently designated for pilots and (2) refine their data to ensure
             that they have a full understanding of the scope and nature of any identified
             pilot shortages.

             Before I discuss each of these issues, let me first provide you with some
             additional background about military aviators and their career paths.

Background   DOD’s aviator community consists of pilots, who actually fly the aircraft,
             and navigators, whose responsibilities include tracking an aircraft’s
             position along an intended flight path. (The Navy and the Marine Corps
             refer to their navigators as naval flight officers.) At the beginning of fiscal
             year 1999, DOD had about 28,000 active duty commissioned and warrant
             officer pilots.1 These include approximately 13,300 pilots in the Air Force,
             6,600 pilots in the Navy, 4,800 warrant officer pilots in the Army, and 3,400
             pilots in the Marine Corps. The Army is the only service that uses warrant
             officers. In addition, there are approximately 5,000 navigators in the Air
             Force, 3,400 navigators in the Navy, and 300 navigators in the Marine Corps.

             All pilot candidates must complete basic flight training to earn their initial
             qualifications, or wings. This course of instruction typically lasts 1 year,
             and upon graduation, each new pilot currently incurs a commitment to
             serve an additional 6 to 8 years of aviation service (the Air Force will raise
             the commitment to 10 years beginning in fiscal year 2000). Pilots can also
             incur other obligations to serve in the military at various points in their

               This figure does not include pilots beyond paygrade O-5. It also does not include student pilots who
             are in basic flight training and have not earned their wings.

             Page 2                                                                         GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
military careers, usually for shorter periods of time, for such things as
accepting orders to new assignments or attending particular schools.

Upon earning their wings, pilots begin to receive aviation career incentive
pay, commonly referred to as flight pay, which was designed to attract and
retain officers in a military aviation career. The amount of flight pay starts
at $125 a month and peaks at $840 a month for a pilot with 14 to 22 years of
aviation service. After 22 years, the amount gradually decreases to $250 a

Once pilots complete their initial aviation commitment, the services are
authorized to offer bonuses, called aviation continuation pay, to encourage
them to continue in their military career beyond the initial aviation
obligation. The services have offered this incentive even in those cases
where pilots have already incurred an additional obligation to serve the
military for a few more years.2 Until September 30, 1999, current law
authorizes the services to pay aviation continuation bonuses of up to
$25,000 to pilots for each year of additional commitment if they have
completed between 6 and 13 years of active duty and agree to remain on
active duty to complete 14 years of commissioned service. Currently, the
Air Force offers $22,000 per year to all pilots with the required years of
aviation service who sign a commitment for 5 years and smaller dollar
amounts to those who sign a commitment for 1, 2, or 3 years. The Marine
Corps offers $12,000 a year to pilots in targeted aircraft specialties. The
Navy targeted its aviation continuation pay bonuses in the past but is now
offering a flat 2-year bonus of $12,000 per year to all eligible pilots. The
Army began offering aviation continuation pay for the first time in fiscal
year 1999. Currently, the Army is offering $12,000 a year to Apache
helicopter pilots.

The services take several factors into account when they determine their
flying and nonflying pilot requirements. For example, Defense guidance
defines the missions upon which the services are to establish their
operational requirements. From this guidance, the services calculate the
structure of their squadrons and the number of crews for each aircraft by
considering such things as the frequency and duration of sorties, time to
repair aircraft and conduct routine maintenance, and crew rest time. The

 We previously reported on the aviation continuation pay bonus in our report entitled Aviation
Continuation Pay: Some Bonuses Are Inappropriate Because of Prior Service Obligations
(GAO/NSIAD-95-30, Oct. 14, 1994).

Page 3                                                                         GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
                      services consider a number of other factors to determine their nonflying
                      requirements. These factors include requirements to send pilots to joint
                      duty assignments, assignments to the Office of the Secretary of Defense,
                      staff positions for career enhancement, and pilot instructor positions. In
                      addition, the services calculate that a certain percentage of their pilots will
                      not be available for assignment at any given point in time due to factors
                      such as education and training, medical conditions, and transfers between

                      Generally, DOD pilots follow career paths that require them to serve in
                      both cockpit and staff positions. DOD’s pilots, whether assigned to flying
                      or nonflying positions, are eligible to receive both aviation career incentive
                      pay and aviation continuation pay, provided they meet the other eligibility

Pilot Requirements    Two factors must be kept in mind in considering the extent of the reported
                      pilot shortages. First, the services have not fully validated their
Have Not Been Fully   requirements, and second, service data to document the extent of the
Validated             shortages is in many instances not readily available.

                      Pilot requirements, which include both flying and nonflying positions, may
                      not be accurately stated. The services report that they can fill their flying
                      positions and that, as a result, their shortages are occurring almost
                      exclusively in their nonflying staff positions. However, the services have
                      not comprehensively assessed all of these nonflying positions to determine
                      whether they truly need to be filled with military pilots. Currently, the
                      services report that about 20 to 40 percent of all pilots, depending on the
                      service, serve in nonflying positions.3 If some of these positions could be
                      filled with other personnel such as retired military personnel, DOD
                      civilians, and contractors with the required aviation expertise, the services’
                      pilot requirements, and thus the shortages, could be reduced. It is also
                      possible that aviation expertise, while desirable, might not be absolutely
                      necessary for some positions. In such cases, other non-aviator military

                        One of the reasons for the variance is that the services report their nonflying positions differently.
                      According to Air Force data, the percentage of pilots in nonflying positions has been less than
                      22 percent for the past 7 years, and is projected to stay relatively constant at slightly more than
                      20 percent in the future. Navy data for fiscal year 1998 show that approximately 27 percent of its pilots
                      and naval flight officers are serving in nonflying positions, both in shore billets and in ships. Although
                      the Marine Corps has the smallest number of pilots, its data show that it has the highest ratio of pilots in
                      nonflying positions, at 40 percent. Nonflying positions are not as great a factor for the Army because it
                      relies heavily on warrant officer pilots who mostly serve in “fly-only” careers.

                      Page 4                                                                             GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
personnel could replace the pilots holding the positions. The Air Force, for
example, told us that it currently prepares justifications to demonstrate
why pilots should fill these positions. However, when pilots are in short
supply, it might be more appropriate to justify why such positions cannot
be filled by personnel other than pilots. In 1997, we recommended that the
services review their requirements for pilots to serve in all of these
nonflying positions.4 During the course of our work, the Air Force told us
that it has prioritized its staff positions and filled those with the highest
priority. However, the remaining vacant positions are still included as pilot
requirements. We have found no evidence that any of the services have
reassessed their nonflying positions, as we previously recommended.

We are not implying that only flying positions should be considered in
determining total pilot requirements. Nonflying positions serve several
purposes. First, nonflying positions can serve to broaden aviators
professionally and prepare them for leadership positions. Second, these
positions can also serve to combat cyclical drops in retention. The Air
Force, in particular, has used this pool of personnel to compensate for
periods of reduced retention. Last, more military pilots increase the pool
available to fly more missions and alleviate the operating tempo problems.

In addition to our concerns about pilot requirements, we are not sure that
the services have based their reported shortages on reliable data. The Air
Force has routinely provided us with data. However, officials in the Army
and the Navy told us that they did not have readily available data on
requirements and pilot inventory. For example, the Navy produced
different sets of data showing fiscal year 1998 shortages ranging from
321 to 1,153 pilots. We are working closely with Navy officials to resolve
these discrepancies. In this statement, we are relying on the most recent
data provided. We will continue to work with the services to resolve our
data concerns. Furthermore, with the exception of the Air Force, the
services were unable to provide us with historical and projected data on
flying and nonflying positions.

 DOD Aviator Positions: Training Requirements and Incentive Pay Could Be Reduced
(GAO/NSIAD-97-60, Feb. 19, 1997).

Page 5                                                                   GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
The Reported                Of all the services, the Air Force and the Navy are reporting the greatest
                            shortages. Within these two services, the shortages are more apparent in
Shortages Are Most          some pilot specialties than in others.
Critical in the Air Force
and the Navy

Air Force Shortage          In fiscal year 1998, the Air Force reported that of a requirement for 13,986
                            pilots, it had a shortage of 648, or 5 percent. It anticipates that its most
                            critical shortages will occur during fiscal years 2002-2007, when it projects
                            shortages of between 1,900 and 2,155 pilots, or up to about 16 percent of its
                            overall pilot requirements. The Air Force has recently implemented
                            personnel actions that it believes will cause the pilot shortages to decline
                            after 2007. For example, the Air Force is now bringing in larger classes of
                            new pilots who will incur obligations that will take them through fiscal
                            year 2007 or beyond. Although reporting that it is currently filling all of its
                            cockpits, the Air Force will soon reevaluate whether it will be able to
                            continue to do so in the fiscal year 2002-2007 time frame.

                            The Air Force projects that its greatest shortages in fiscal year 2007 will
                            occur among its fighter, tactical airlift, and bomber pilots. Fighter pilot
                            shortages are projected to reach 820 pilots, out of a requirement of
                            4,715 fighter pilots, or 17 percent of its fighter requirements. Tactical airlift
                            pilot shortages are projected to reach 311 pilots, out of a requirement of
                            2,015 pilots, or 15 percent of the tactical airlift requirements. Likewise, in
                            fiscal year 2007, the Air Force projects a shortage of 294 bomber pilots out
                            of a requirement of 1,049 pilots, representing 28 percent of the bomber
                            force requirements. Figure 1 displays the actual Air Force pilot
                            requirements and inventory for fiscal years 1992-1998 and projected
                            requirements and inventory for fiscal years 1999-2009.

                            Page 6                                                        GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
                Figure 1: U.S. Air Force Pilot Requirements Versus Inventory (fiscal
                years 1992-2009)












                         FY92   FY93   FY94   FY95   FY96   FY97   FY98   FY99   FY00   FY01   FY02   FY03   FY04   FY05    FY06   FY07   FY08   FY09
                                                                                 Fiscal Year

                                                                          Requirements         Inventory

                Note: Air Force data include both flying and nonflying positions.

Navy Shortage   According to the most recent data provided to us, as of February 4, 1999,
                the Navy has already experienced its greatest shortage of pilots. These
                data indicate that the Navy, whose pilot population is about half that of the
                Air Force, experienced a shortage in fiscal year 1998 that was nearly two
                times greater than the Air Force shortage. Navy officials told us that they
                have filled all of their cockpits by extending sea tours. The Navy’s shortage
                of 1,153 pilots, of a requirement of 7,712 pilots, represented about
                15 percent of its pilot requirements. Navy data also show that the greatest
                shortages occurred among those pilots who fly helicopters, followed by
                those who fly propeller aircraft and jets. In fiscal year 1998, the Navy was
                short 536 helicopter pilots, or 17 percent of its helicopter requirements of
                3,195 pilots. In the case of propeller aircraft, the Navy required 1,845 pilots,
                but was short 311, or 17 percent. In the jet community, the Navy had a
                requirement for 2,221 pilots and was short 216, representing about
                10 percent of its jet pilot requirements. Over the next 5 years, the Navy
                projects that its aviator shortages will gradually dissipate, but not
                disappear. Figure 2 displays the Navy’s pilot requirements and inventory

                Page 7                                                                                                     GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
                for fiscal years 1992-1998 and projected requirements and inventory for
                fiscal years 1999-2009.

                Figure 2: U.S. Navy Pilot Requirements Versus Inventory (fiscal
                years 1992-2009)










                        FY92   FY93   FY94   FY95   FY96   FY97   FY98   FY99   FY00   FY01    FY02   FY03   FY04   FY05   FY06   FY07   FY08   FY09

                                                                          Requirements        Inventory

                Note: Navy data include both flying and nonflying positions.

Army Shortage   According to Army data, in fiscal year 1998, the Army had an overall
                requirement of 4,745 warrant officer pilots and an inventory of 4,799, for a
                surplus of 54 warrant officer pilots, or 1 percent. As of February 1999, the
                Army reported that it had a shortage of 104 Apache helicopter pilots, out of
                a requirement of 1,059, or about 10 percent of its Apache pilot force. The
                Army plans to compensate for this shortfall by offering the continuation
                pay bonus, by allowing certain pilots who were not promoted to stay on
                active duty, and by allowing others who left the service to return to active

                Page 8                                                                                                 GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
Marine Corps Shortage       The Marine Corps reported an overall shortage of 46 pilots in fiscal
                            year 1998, representing a shortage of about 1 percent of its overall
                            requirements of 3,435 pilots. According to the most recent data provided to
                            us, the Marine Corps does project an increased shortfall beginning in fiscal
                            year 2001. However, the projected overall shortage is 211 pilots, or about
                            6 percent of its requirement of 3,624 pilots.

Two Key Factors Are         Two factors are contributing to the pilot shortfalls. First, the services
                            reduced pilot accessions during the drawdown in the 1990s. This
Contributing to the         contributed to an insufficient number of pilots to fill the overall current
Reported Shortfalls         pilot requirement. Consequently, certain year groups are atypically small,
                            and current aviation personnel managers are challenged to find ways to fill
                            requirements as this population matures through the workforce. Second,
                            pilots report that they are unhappy with a number of quality-of-life factors
                            that are causing them to consider leaving. Pilots state that at the same time
                            certain factors are making a career within the military less attractive, other
                            factors, such as a good job market, are making a career within private
                            industry more attractive.

Reduced Accessions During   Air Force and Navy reductions in the number of new pilot accessions
the Drawdown Are Creating   during the drawdown in the mid-1990s had the unintended result of leaving
                            the services with an insufficient number of pilots to support the current
Unintended Consequences
                            force. The Air Force, for example, reduced active duty pilot accessions
                            from more than 1,500 in fiscal year 1990 to approximately 500 annually
                            during fiscal years 1994-96. Recognizing that it needed to increase
                            accessions, the Air Force has steadily increased its pilot production since
                            that time. The service accessed approximately 900 pilots in fiscal year 1998
                            and expects to meet its capacity of 1,100 pilot accessions by fiscal
                            year 2000. The capacity to access pilots beyond 1,100 is limited by the
                            current number of training facilities and training slots for new,
                            inexperienced pilots. Figure 3 shows Air Force pilot actual accessions and
                            goals for fiscal years 1988 through 1998 and projected goals for fiscal years
                            1999 through 2004.

                            Page 9                                                      GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
Figure 3: U.S. Air Force Pilot Accessions and Goals (fiscal years 1988 to 2004)









       FY88   FY89   FY90   FY91   FY92   FY93   FY94   FY95   FY96    FY97   FY98   FY99   FY00   FY01   FY02   FY03   FY04

                                                           Actual     Goal

The Navy experienced a similar pattern. In fiscal year 1990, the Navy
accessed 1,039 pilots; in fiscal year 1994 the Navy accessed 471 pilots. In
fiscal years 1999 through 2005, the Navy plans to access 820 pilots each
year. Figure 4 shows Navy pilot actual accessions and goals for fiscal
years 1988 through 1998 and projected goals for fiscal years 1999 through

Page 10                                                                                            GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
                           Figure 4: U.S. Navy Pilot Actual Accessions and Goals (fiscal years 1988 to 2004)







                                  FY88   FY89   FY90   FY91   FY92   FY93   FY94   FY95   FY96     FY97    FY98   FY99   FY00   FY01   FY02   FY03   FY04   FY05

                                                                                          Actual    Goal

Aviators Are Leaving the   During our work to date, we have reviewed a number of retention studies
Service for a Number of    and surveys and administered our own questionnaire to more than
                           180 pilots and 50 navigators in the Air Force and the Navy. In addition, we
                           conducted follow-up group discussions with more than 120 of the aviators
                           who responded to our questionnaire. Although we cannot make
                           projections from the limited number of questionnaires and interviews, their
                           comments are instructive.

                           The aviators who responded to our questionnaire reported that the three
                           most important reasons for wanting to stay in the military are their love of
                           flying, the ability to serve their country, and the camaraderie they enjoy
                           among their peers. The three most significant reasons for wanting to leave
                           the military are better financial opportunities outside of the military,
                           improved family life, and frustrations with leadership. When we asked
                           aviators to provide us with the single change that would encourage them to
                           stay in the military, Navy aviators requested funding for aircraft and parts
                           and increased pay and benefits, and Air Force aviators requested a
                           relaxation of their deployment schedules followed closely by better pay
                           and more choice in assignments.

                           Page 11                                                                                                     GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
In addition to these responses to our questionnaire, we would like to
elaborate on these and other themes we heard with some regularity during
our group discussions.

Pilots expressed their frustrations with the current bonuses and stated that
they are not working effectively, for a number of reasons. Of the 80 bonus
takers we interviewed, only 32, or 40 percent, told us that they were very
likely or definitely planning to stay in the military after they completed
their current obligation. All others were undecided, somewhat likely, or
very likely to leave the military. Some aviators complained about the
perceived “cut in pay” that occurs when a pilot reaches 14 years of
commissioned service and is no longer eligible to receive bonus money.
Others complained that the services postponed or extended their flight
training, which in turn reduced the number of years in which they can
receive an aviation continuation bonus. The extent to which today’s pilots
are motivated by dollars is up for debate. The pilots who responded to our
written questionnaire said that they have the potential to pursue financially
attractive careers with private industry. However, some pilots and officials
we met said that the irritants within the military that are pushing them out
are greater than the allure of potentially large salaries within private

Low retention may also be related to current deployment schedules. Pilots
identified the frequency and the length of deployments, and the lack of
clear mission objectives as primary concerns.5 Some pilots referred to
their deployments as “non value-added deployments.” The Air Force pilots
we met expressed their specific concerns about the frequency of
deployments to Southwest Asia, the austere living conditions, and the
inability to train during those deployments. They questioned the need for a
sizeable, constant presence in that area, and suggested they would be
better off training in U.S. air space and deploying on an as needed basis.
The Air Force is reorganizing itself into an expeditionary force with the
explicit intent of providing greater stability and predictability in
deployments. However, pilots expressed their concerns that the length of
the deployments will increase from 45 to 90 days under this concept. The
Navy pilots we met understandably had a different expectation about the
length of deployments since naval deployments are typically 6 months in

  Other work we are doing supports these concerns. For example, the Air Force reports that since about
1989, the average number of personnel deployed for operations other than war has more than
quadrupled from about 3,400 personnel in 1989 to about 14,600 personnel in 1997.

Page 12                                                                       GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
length. However, Navy and Air Force pilots alike raised concerns about the
pace of operations between deployments. Several naval pilots told us that
the schedule between deployments is often more frustrating than the
deployments themselves. One pilot said that he often gets more sleep and
communicates with his wife more often via e-mail while on deployment
than he does when he is working 10-12 hour days between deployments.

Aging fleets, a lack of spare parts, and increased demands on aircraft
maintainers are also sources of concern. Pilots in both services told us that
they only learn on a day-to-day basis whether or not they will be able to fly
on training missions due to the limited number of operating aircraft in their
squadrons. These pilots expressed concerns that they are not maintaining
their requisite combat skills under these conditions. Our work has shown
that the shortage of spare parts within the Air Force may be due to
deficiencies in forecasting requirements, inventory management, and
repair problems, as well as budgeting problems. Nevertheless, the
perception of the pilots we interviewed, clearly, was that spare parts are
not available to them and that aircraft mechanics spend an inordinate
amount of time inefficiently removing working parts from one aircraft in
order to repair another. The pilots also expressed their concerns for the
enlisted mechanics, adding that it is difficult for them to motivate their
enlisted personnel in such a difficult work environment.

Pilots told us they are also frustrated by the lack of opportunities for career
development and promotions. These pilots have “grown up” in a military
environment in which they have seen separation incentives, 15-year
retirements, and forced early retirements after 20 years of service. They do
not see the military as a guaranteed job. Air Force pilots, in particular,
raised concerns that they are being sent back to junior flying positions and
not getting assignments to the traditional military leadership positions.
They believe that the personnel assignment and promotion systems are no
longer synchronized. On the one hand, the Air Force is reassigning pilots
to cockpit positions; on the other hand, the promotion boards still expect
the pilots to gain staff and education experiences to be competitive for
promotion. Some of the pilots we spoke with said that, in essence, the Air
Force is creating a fly-only career path and suggested that the services do
this formally.

Finally, pilots raised concerns about leadership above their immediate
chain of command. They perceived a reluctance on the part of leadership
to stand up and say no to expanded work under decreasing budgets and
reduced manpower. They cited changes to the retirement system and

Page 13                                                      GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
                         medical care, and stated that no one is willing to fight for the military
                         member. They suggested that military leaders are holding pilots to new
                         missions within old structures. The pilots said that DOD needs to be able to
                         cut back on its commitments–to match the drawdown of the force. Finally,
                         several pilots commented that they do not wish to stay in the military to
                         rise to the senior positions themselves because they do not see their
                         superior officers enjoying their jobs or being given the proper tools to do
                         their jobs.

The Services Are         The issue of pilot shortfalls is multi-faceted, and no single step will solve
                         the problem. The services have implemented a number of changes to help
Taking Steps to          address the situation.
Address the Shortfalls
                         All of the services told us they have made cockpit positions a staffing
                         priority, making a concerted effort to fill these positions before filling
                         nonflying positions. We concur that the services should fill their priority
                         positions first. However, longer-term implications may be associated with
                         this decision. For example, the Air Force and the Navy told us they are
                         presently limiting the number of mid-grade pilots they would otherwise
                         send to assignments such as staff positions and formal education programs
                         and reassigning them in junior flying positions or extending them in their
                         current assignments. While this practice helps to fill the cockpits, it also
                         creates some unintended consequences and poses leadership implications.
                         Air Force and Navy officials have raised concerns about the future, stating
                         that some pilots who have missed some of these career-enhancing
                         opportunities and leadership experiences may not be as qualified to be
                         promoted to senior paygrades.

                         The Air Force is implementing a program called Phoenix Aviator 20. The
                         purpose of this program is to make it more attractive for pilots to stay in
                         the Air Force until they can retire at 20 years of service by creating a
                         “seamless transition” between military service and civilian employment.
                         Among the provisions, Air Force pilots who enroll in this program will be
                         assigned to a tour of duty that guarantees them flying experience, to keep
                         their flight credentials current, during their last 3 years of service. During
                         this time period, the Air Force will provide financial assistance for the
                         military pilot to obtain his or her civilian certifications. In addition, the
                         military pilot will be guaranteed a job interview with private industry. The
                         program is new, and few pilots have enrolled to date.

                         Page 14                                                     GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
                            In an attempt to provide greater stability and predictability regarding
                            overseas deployments, the Air Force is reorganizing itself into an
                            expeditionary force. Under this reorganization, air crews and support
                            teams will be assigned to 1 of 10 expeditionary forces, 2 of which would be
                            on call for one 90-day deployment every 15 months. This reorganization is
                            also still in development.

                            The Air Force will increase the period of obligated service for pilots after
                            receiving their wings from 8 to 10 years beginning in fiscal year 2000.
                            While this step will have a positive effect on shortages, the effect will not
                            be realized for a decade.

                            The Army began offering the aviation continuation pay bonus to its Apache
                            helicopter pilots in fiscal year 1999. In addition, the Army has allowed
                            some pilots who left the service to return to active duty, and in other cases,
                            has allowed pilots who were not promoted to remain on active duty.

                            Finally, the Air Force and the Navy have increased the number of new
                            pilots they bring in each year. The Air Force is still increasing its pilot
                            accessions until fiscal year 2000.

Opportunities Exist to      You asked us to provide some options for the Subcommittee and the
                            services to consider in addressing the pilot shortage issue. Indeed, our
Implement New               analysis of service data, interviews with service officials, and surveys with
Solutions                   aviators have generated a number of ideas that merit further exploration.
                            We have not yet evaluated the potential or limitation of these options.
                            Before I mention these options, I will discuss two steps the services need to
                            initiate now.

Initial Steps to Be Taken   DOD must develop reliable and consistent data to identify, with precision,
                            the year groups and aircraft types in which the shortages currently exist.
                            DOD must also be able to measure the magnitude of the current problem
                            and project with some accuracy and consistency into the future. For
                            example, certain long-term corrective actions might be appropriate if DOD
                            determines that the primary reason for the shortages is low retention
                            among pilots who are eligible to leave the military. If, on the other hand,
                            DOD determines that the primary reason for the shortages is due to
                            personnel actions that were made in the past, other short-term corrective
                            actions might be more in order.

                            Page 15                                                      GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
                           The services should also reexamine their pilot requirements, from two
                           perspectives, with the intent of reducing them. First, the services should
                           scrutinize all non-cockpit positions, identify those that could be filled by
                           other personnel, and convert the positions. Second, the services should
                           study the current length and frequency of deployments, as well as the
                           operational demands between deployments.

Other Options to Explore   Options identified to us, that we will continue to explore during the course
                           of our review, include the following:

                           • The services could review the aviator bonus system and specifically
                             consider aviation continuation bonuses that do not terminate at 14 years
                             of service but continue through 20 years and possibly beyond. Such a
                             bonus system may encourage some pilots to remain in the service
                             beyond 14 years.
                           • To the extent that the services are constrained by the number of new
                             pilots they can train each year due to limited training capacity, DOD
                             could explore additional opportunities to consolidate their pilot training
                             programs and increase training flexibility among the services.
                           • To the extent that pilot shortages are not occurring uniformly
                             throughout the services, DOD could consider cross-service assignments
                             and assigning pilots in overstrength year groups in one service to staff
                             positions in another service where shortages exist.

                           In summary, the services must first reevaluate their requirements and
                           refine their data to better identify their problem areas. The services have
                           begun to take steps to address their reported pilot shortages, and we
                           believe that opportunities exist to explore additional solutions. We expect
                           to complete our work on pilot shortages and issue a final report later this
                           summer. We will continue to work with the services to explore solutions.

                           Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be happy to
                           respond to any questions that you or the other Members of the
                           Subcommittee may have.

(703281)       Leter       Page 16                                                     GAO/T-NSIAD-99-102
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