Airmen Faced Less Competition for Promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in 2024

Competition for promotions to lieutenant colonel eased for much of the Air Force in 2024, driven by a smaller pool of majors considered.

Across the six main “Line of the Air Force” categories, 1,258 officers were selected from 2,495 considered, a rate of 50.4 percent. That is the smallest group of majors considered since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The full list of those selected was released by the Air Force Personnel Center on May 30 and is available here.

According to Air Force data, officer retention rates hit a 20-year high in 2020, at 93.7 percent. That increased even more in 2021 to 94.1 percent, but has since fallen.

In 2020, the same year that the pandemic began, the Air Force made sweeping changes to officer promotions, creating six competitive categories rather than having officers compete for promotion in a single group. The new system was supposed to make it easier for non-rated officers in logistics or intelligence, for example, to compete for advancement against rated officers, such as pilots and navigators. The service also eliminated “below the zone” promotions for officers early in their careers. 

Since then, majors “in the zone,” or on the typical schedule for promotions, have seen their promotion rate jump, reaching a new high of 78.5 percent this year that is a full 3.4 percent jump over last year. “Above the zone” promotion rates, for officers later in their careers, declined some from last year to 10.7 percent this year, but is still higher than before 2020. 

Generally speaking, the six different Line of the Air Force categories have ranked in the same order for combined “in the zone” and “above the zone” promotion rates since 2022: 

  1. Cross functional operations: Includes foreign area officers and multi-domain warfare officers 
  2. Combat support: Includes munitions, maintenance, security forces, contracting, and more 
  3. Information warfare: Includes intelligence, cyber operations, information operations, and public affairs 
  4. Air operations and special warfare: Includes pilots, air battle managers, drone operators, TACPs, and combat rescue 
  5. Force modernization: Includes engineers, scientists, and acquisition management 
  6. Nuclear and missile operations 

    In 2022, nuclear and missile operations was slightly higher than force modernization, but the nuclear rate dropped precipitously this year, making the category the only one where less than 40 percent of majors were selected from “in the zone” and “above the zone” combined. 

    Combining “in the zone” and “above the zone,” promotion rates ticked up for air operators and combat support—the two largest categories across the service. Information warfare, the next biggest category, saw an increase in its “in the zone” rate, but a dramatic fall in “above the zone,” from 19.3 percent last year to 4.4 percent this year, causing its overall promotion rate to dip. 

    Air operations posted its highest “in the zone” promotion rate since 2021, and tied its highest “above the zone” rate since 2020. The category saw its smallest number of those considered ever and accounted for most of the declines in those considered and selected, though information warfare also saw drops as well. 

    The number of combat support majors considered and selected surged, helping it become the second-largest category—though still less than half of the air operations category. 

    2024 Lieutenant Colonel Promotions

    CategoryTotal ConsideredTotal SelectedRate
    Air Operations & Special Warfare114554747.8%
    Nuclear & Missile Operations732939.7%
    Information Warfare45423251.1%
    Combat Support47228059.3%
    Force Modernization27612344.6%
    Cross Functional Operations754762.7%