Air Force Budget Requests Target Retention And Recruitment Efforts


The U.S. Air Force has asked for additional 2024 budget funding specifically for retention and recruitment bonuses. The global pilot shortage coupled with the difficulties of bringing in new airmen are driving the service to expand its financial incentives for current and future personnel.

The Air Force budget for 2024 is pegged at $185 billion, of which $648 million is earmarked for bonuses and retention incentives targeting 65 “specialty positions,” according to the information released on Monday. The overall budget is an increase of some 4 percent over that of the previous year. A partial breakdown of personnel-related funding is reported as $250 million for aviation career incentives, $45 million for initial recruitment bonuses and $12 million in retention incentives for cyber-related roles.

One week before the budget announcement, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall announced the service expected to fall short of its active-duty, Reserve and Air National Guard recruiting goals this year by about 10 percent, while in 2022, active-duty target numbers came in just above their goals, and those for the Air National Guard and Reserves fell short.

“We do have a [pilot] shortage,” said Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall. “We’re having to try to improve the efficiency of the pipeline to get more people in.” Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget Maj. Gen. Mike Greiner told reporters, “The Air Force side increases [bonuses] by about 5.5 percent,” allowing annual pilot-retention bonuses ranging from $35,000 per year to $50,000.

Air Force budget-request documents also reveal $64 million on the table for new undergraduate and advanced pilot training.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. The AF ,guard, and reserves keep throwing out fighter pilots and others because they have too many Majors and Lt. Colonels. It is time to realize that many people like to fly and are good at it and have no desire to be the Chief of staff. I left the AF at 20 years because They wanted me to drive a desk so I flew for the airlines for 15 years. The up or out only helps the airlines. The services leaders need to pull their heads out.

    • ^ This. A change in culture would have a huge positive effect. Throwing money at the problem is a band-aid.

    • That’s part of it. The AF in particular should also maybe think about that one thing that all the other branches have, Warrant Officers.

      Also, maybe it’s time we become “inclusive” and start allowing qualified enlisted fly? One of the best pilots I know was enlisted Air Force. Got his commercial while still in the service, now he has an ATP and flies as an engineering test pilot.

      But, he never got that degree in yoga or history, so he’s still too dumb to fly by AF standards.

      • I was IN that exact position for most of my 21 years in the USAF, Matthew. And when I got my degree, I was too old to get a commission and get rated.

        The senior officers within USAF are a bunch of GOB’s running a club … they can’t see the forest for the trees.

        The USAF now HAS enlisted pilots but ONLY for drones. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of them getting out to fly for the airlines, too, after they tire of flying TV sets.

  2. If the pilot shortage is the cause, then continuing to destroy piston GA is likely a bad idea. There’s grab bag of bad policies needing to be fixed. There’s a need to save and create urban airports.I’ve never heard a reasonable argument not to go to glide approaches, which would reduce noise and save fuel. Fixes to joint and several liability are way overdue. 4 seat and below likely just need to go to certification standards similar to light sport.

    Bottom line, the schools cannot be efficient unless the planes are cheaper, and the planes cannot be cheaper without volume and reduced regulatory and tort costs.

    There’s no reason an IFR capable plane with reasonable performance for business use and personal travel cannot be made and sold for $150k. And, maintenance and fuel could likely be halved.

    Also, perhaps the USAF needs to start having warrant officer pilots if up or out is really such an issue.

  3. ” bonuses ranging from $35,000 per year to $50,000.”
    This is precisely WHY an all volunteer force does not later deserve veteran benefits (that were started for people who were drafted/conscripted and pulled into service). They already have more compensation than bricklayers and chemists and construction workers who also “serve their country” but for low pay and no benefits.

    I’m sure that people want in the air force to fly. It’s the management that’s flubbed things up so much that few can get in.

    • Given how often the system messes up on those benefits, and how bad the civilian disability system is, I’m thinking you are attacking this from the wrong angle.

      I don’t know how retired soldiers would be able to find affordable insurance given many of the the things they can be exposed to and experience. I have benefits which I do not use because civilian benefits from other employers are better. OTOH, I don’t have anything service related that isn’t common in civilians.

      IMO, The best solution is to split health insurance from employment and overhaul the whole system to increase free market incentives. Then, we can figure out how government can save by using that system for all appropriate veteran needs.

    • Also, I got low pay and no bonuses. You are seeing the need for those now due to government and military failures. We all need to be better voters.

    • Um … Excuse ME, Arthur. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Did YOU ever serve during Viet Nam or earlier … like so many of us did? In THOSE days, I recall being paid $42 every two weeks whether I needed it all or not. The ONLY thing keeping most people ‘in’ was an early retirement possibility. And even there, I don’t get rich on enlisted retirement. Some senior officers — esp. those who were flying and maybe got bonuses — are doing OK but most retirees are just getting by. Unless they went into a second career, the combo of military retirement and maybe social security is just enough to float the boat … barely. AND … during Viet Nam … people were DYING for that kind of money.

  4. I don’t get it. The military needs trained pilots for all kinds of equipment and assignments. Yet as an example, a close relative was trained to fly in the Navy, went on to fly and command heavy communications platforms, but that assignment including training to fly big iron only lasted about 3 years. Then they assigned him as a flight instructor, and then finally as a non-flying officer on an aircraft carrier before he retired at a young age, to go fly commercially. The assignments pushed him out, even though he was a young line officer, had a spotless record and amazing skills. The military needs to have their collective heads examined. Any pilot shortage is the fault of woke politics and the US military, not the economy or those already in the service.