By David Crane
defrev at gmail dot com
October 28, 2008
According to a recent Air Force Times article, the F-22 Raptor has the lowest pilot-retention rate of any U.S. fighter or attack aircraft measured, at a rather abysmal 33%. Compare this to 81% for F-15E Strike Eagle pilots and 68% for F-15 Eagle pilots respectively, and, gentlemen, we’ve got a problem. Think about that for a second. If those numbers are correct (and we’re not sure about them, yet), the F-15E, a much older and less-technologically-advanced aircraft, enjoys almost 2.5 times the pilot retention rate of the vaunted F-22.
The article didn’t give an explanation, just the brutal facts. However, there are a few posibilities that immediately come to mind. 1) Dealing with USAF bureaucracy surrounding the incredibly expensive and PR-controlled F-22 program is an incredible pain in the ass. 2) Flying the 5th-generation F-22 Raptor is too easy, due to its…
highly advanced avionics and flight controls that don’t require as much pilot activity as is required by 4th generation fighter aircraft. 3) Due to said highly-advanced avionics and flight controlos, the F-22 doesn’t provide as much tactile feedback as the 4th generation fighters. 4) F-22 pilots aren’t getting enough flight time in the aircraft. 5) F-22 pilot morale is just low for some reason.
Understand that the above paragraph is pure guesswork. DefenseReview has absolutely no idea what’s causing it and we have no concrete data whatsoever that would explain it. So, we’ll try to look into the situation and report back on it.
By the way, the F-16 Falcon’s pilot retention rate isn’t much better at 51%. And, the A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog’s" pilot retention rate is 49%. The overall fighter pilot retention percentage is a reported 57%.
This is happening despite the $125,000 bonus offered for a 5-year re-up.
Bottom line, if the reported numbers are accurate, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) has a much bigger overall problem on its hands than just retaining F-22 pilots. Rather, it has a serious general fighter/attack pilot retention problem, and it had better do something about it. Retaining experienced fighter pilots is important not only for warfighting, but also for training newer, less-experienced pilots.
If I were the Air Force, I’d do whatever I could to get the bottom of the problem as quickly as possible, and I’d do whatever necessary to solve it, and right quick. And, the USAF might just have to dig a little deeper into its wallet.