Air Force gets the authority to recall up to 1000 retired pilots
It's been called a "quiet crisis" and has been building for several years. The Air Force is experiencing a severe shortage of pilots, despite several measures taken to encourage personnel to remain in uniform.
But the lure of the private sector with its big salaries has proven to be tough to overcome. That's why the president has amended an executive order that gives the Secretary of the Air Force the authority to recall up to 1000 pilots for three years service.
Executive order 13223 declared a temporary state of emergency after the September 11 attacks and allowed the president to call up the National Guard, hire and fire officers, and delay retirements. It has been renewed by every president since, including Trump, but under the previous version only 25 retired officers could to be called back to active duty. Trump's amendment expands that authority.
"The authorities available for use during a national emergency ... are also invoked and made available, according to their terms, to the Secretary concerned, subject in the case of the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, to the direction of the Secretary of Defense," the amended order reads.
The Air Force has played a central role in the US-led campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, flying most of the combat sorties during the three-year-old effort. The intensity of the operations has placed additional demands on the Air Force's pilots and aircraft, which are also seeing more duties in Europe and Asia.
Air Force officials have pointed to commercial airlines, which pay more, as the main draw for fliers; budget cuts, longer deployments, and long-term personnel drawdowns have also contributed to more pilots leaving. (The service is also dealing with a shortage of aircraft maintainers.)
The service is pursuing a bevy of changes to retain pilots and airmen, including more flexible assignment policies, increased pay and bonuses, and reshuffling of administrative duties. It is also looking to change its training programs, potentially outsourcing some elements in order to resolve a personnel bottleneck and free up Air Force aircraft for other uses.
The air force spends several million dollars to train these pilots, so before we feel sorry for their recall, we should remember that. But this is only a temporary measure to deal with a persistent problem that has no obvious long term solution.
It isn't so much a lack of recruits as it is bottlenecks in training and deployment. Fewer pilots means fewer instructors to train new personnel. The air force is considering outsourcing some training to universities but that won't solve the problem of too many recruits and not enough instructors.
There is a problem with retention of pilots, but that can partially be covered by stop-loss. Otherwise, they are concentrating on making pilots' lives better:
"It's not about the money, the Air Force says. It's really about the experience," Seligman said. "So I think they're focusing more on opening the pipeline and things like shorter deployments, as opposed to money, that will really make the pilots' lives better."
Over the next few years, the battle against terrorism will probably move toward Africa where ISIS is growing. In lieu of putting boots on the ground, the bulk of the fight will fall to the air force. Meanwhile, Afghanistan and the Middle East will continue to be a problem for the military and our air force will be stretched to the limit to deal with the terrorist threat.