air force night cockpit

  • The Air Force’s ongoing pilot shortage appears to have gotten worse over the past year.
  • The force is pursuing a number of policies to train and retain more pilots and airmen.
  • Officials warn that resources are stretched thin and budget concerns are exacerbating the problem.

Senior Air Force officials have warned publicly for some time that the service is facing a severe shortage of pilots.

Though its expanded its total force during the 2016 fiscal year, as of April 2017 it was still 1,555 pilots short —more than 1,000 of them fighter pilots — of the roughly 20,000 it is mandated to have.

“We are in a crisis,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in late September. “If we don’t find a way to turn this around, our ability to defend the nation is compromised.”

In fiscal year 2017, which ended in September, the shortage of pilots has grew, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said during a press briefing on Thursday, speaking alongside Goldfein.

Wilson said the force was short 1,926 pilots, though the Air Force corrected that after the briefing to “around 2,000.”

US Air Force F-35 pilot cockpit

Wilson said the biggest reason for the overall shortfall “is that we are too small for all the missions we are being asked to carry out.”

“Surge has become the new normal,” she said, adding that increased operational demands can be sustained up to a point and over time it wears down pilots and air crews. “We’re burning out our people because we’re too small for what the nation is asking.”

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