USAF Tells Congress it is at an Inflection Point in Readiness Crisis

Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, USAF deputy chief of staff for operations, testifies before the House Armed Services Committee's readiness panel on Nov. 9, 2017. Screenshot photo.

The Air Force has taken steps to address its readiness crisis by increasing monthly flight hours for fighter pilots and recruiting more maintainers, but the service still needs help so it can fly the missions it needs to, a top service official told lawmakers.

Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, the deputy chief of staff for operations, told members of the House Armed Services readiness panel on Nov. 9 the Air Force is approaching an inflection point in its readiness crisis, as the service’s combat-coded squadrons are only at a 50 percent readiness rate to meet global demands, especially for “high-end conflict against near peer adversaries.”

To address this, the Air Force has been spending additional funding to recruit 4,000 more maintainers to “accelerate the readiness recovery” and get planes back in the air, Nowland said.

The service’s fighter pilot training hours are on the right track, with an air superiority pilot flying 15.6 hours per month and a general purpose attack pilot flying about 16 hours per month.

To try to keep its operational squadrons healthy, the Air Force is moving maintainers away from training units to combat-coded squadrons. Contractors are making up the gap for now, until there are enough experienced maintainers to move “blue suits” back in training organizations, Nowland said.

Other career fields also face a shortfall. The service’s most highly stressed career field is AC-130 gunners, but with stable funding, the Air Force expects to “close those gaps” and hit its recruitment goals by 2019, he said.

“We’ve made training a priority,” said Nowland. “Regaining readiness soonest means rebuilding your operational training infrastructure and funding your training lines.”