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How to address Air Force pilot shortage problem

Beijing demonstrated its growing military strength this month as the People’s Liberation Army conducted large-scale air and naval exercises around Taiwan and even fired missiles over the island. Eyeing a possible conflict with China in the coming years, the US Air Force is trying to field next-generation aircraft in sufficient quantities to help deter aggression and achieve victory if deterrence fails.

The problem is that the service consistently struggles to retain enough aviators to fly those aircraft. In fact, the Total Air Force (Active, Guard, and Reserve) was short 1,650 pilots in 2021, and the shortfall will likely only get worse.

It’s a crisis that must be addressed head-on, both by training more pilots but more importantly by retaining a higher percentage of experienced pilots through flexible incentives offered to officers earlier in their careers.

Some might be tempted to dismiss recent warnings, pointing out that pilot shortages are not a new problem and that the Air Force actually shrank the pilot shortage by more than 14 percent from 2020 to 2021.

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