A GAO study found that DoD needs to reevaluate its fighter pilot workforce requirements across multiple forces.
The Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps had gaps between the actual numbers of fighter pilots and funded positions between 2013 and 2017. In 2017, the Air Force’s gap was the widest at 23 percent of authorizations, and is projected to continue through to 2023.
The Marine Corps gap is concentrated in fighter pilots below the rank of major and it has grown from 6 percent in 2006 to 24 percent in 2017. The Navy had a gap of fighter pilots’ first operational tours that grew from 12 percent in 2013 to 26 percent in 2017, and officials stated it could increase through to mid-2019.
Service officials attributed these gaps to aircraft readiness challenges, reduced training opportunities, and increased attrition of fighter pilots due to career dissatisfaction. To help increase fighter pilot numbers, the military services are taking actions, including increasing the amounts of financial incentives to retain pilots.
Squadron requirements have not been recently reevaluated to to reflect increased fighter pilot workload and the emergence of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), even though they should be reviewed every two years according to service guidance.
Officials stated that the requirements have not been reevaluated because existing conditions do not warrant the change, but fighter pilots and squadron leaders interviewed at locations GAO visited consistently stated that the typical workload has significantly increased in recent years.
GAO also found that the military services have not assessed the effect of increased reliance on UAS on fighter pilot requirements.
The report recommends that each of the forces reevaluate fighter pilot squadron requirements, to include updating current assumptions of fighter pilot workload and assessing the impact of future incorporation of UAS platforms into combat aviation. It also recommends that the secretary of the Navy should ensure that the commandant of the Marine Corps and the deputy commandant for aviation reevaluate fighter pilot squadron requirements.