A combat pilot shortage has prompted the invoking of the National Emergencies Act as an executive order was signed that allows the Air Force to voluntarily recall up to 1,000 retired aviators for active duty. The order could help ease the combat pilot shortage in the force and improve military readiness as the administration steps up its new Afghanistan war strategy to defeat the Taliban and terrorists. The new strategy includes additional U.S. troops going to Afghanistan as well as increased U.S. air support for the Afghan military.
According to the Pentagon, the Air Force is currently short by about 1,500 pilots. Before the order was signed, the Air Force was allowed to rehire up to 25 retired officers under what’s known as the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty program and bring them back to active duty in critical aviation-related staff positions. The executive order now allows the Air Force to temporarily exceed the limit of 25 rehires. Other branches of the U.S. military also need more pilots, including the Navy, and the executive order could be used later to help address those challenges.
A release issued by the Air Force said they are now looking to have retired pilots return to the service for up to 12 months in positions that require qualified pilots. The service is looking for retired fliers of any pilot specialty code — which includes bomber, fighter, helicopter, tanker, and remotely operated aircraft pilots — to fill “critical-rated staff positions” and allow active-duty pilots to stay with units where they are needed to meet mission requirements.
The Air Force is combating the pilot shortage with various incentive programs to keep officers in uniform longer. A program launching later this year includes a 100 percent promotion opportunity and an aviator retention pay bonus worth up to $350,000 over a 10-year term that is already in effect. Pay for officers and enlisted personnel will increase for the first time since 1999. Incentive pay, also called flight pay, will increase for all officers, with those who have over 12 years of service potentially seeing the biggest boost, up to a maximum of $1,000 a month. Incentive pay will also increase for enlisted aircrew members — up to a maximum of $600 for those with over 14 years of service.
An Air Force official indicated they had no current plans to act on the authority granted to them by the president’s order. “The Air Force does not currently intend to recall retired pilots to address the pilot shortage,” “We appreciate the authorities and flexibility delegated to us.”