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​An F-35A Lightning II pilot from the 34th Fighter Squadron, assigned to Hill AFB, Utah, completes pre-flight checks prior to departing RAF Lakenheath, England, May 7, 2017. Air Force photo by MSgt. Eric Burks.

​The Air Force needs to increase its total end strength, address the growing pilot shortage, and improve the quality of life for airmen, all at a time when budgets are uncertain, Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso told lawmakers Wednesday. Grosso, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for manpower, said during a House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee hearing that the service’s biggest priority is its Total Force end strength, which has grown but not enough. “At current force structure levels, the operational tempo and deployments your Air Force maintains to support the joint force simply does not allow time for personnel to adequately train for future conflicts,” Grosso said in testimony to the panel. “An entire generation of airmen has prioritized operations over training.”

To compensate, the Fiscal 2018 President’s Budget request calls for funding to grow the Active Duty to 325,100—an increase of more than 4,000 from Fiscal 2017. The service is working with the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve to help address its pilot shortage, but it expects to be short more than 1,000 fighter pilots by the end of Fiscal 2017, and needs to increase output and retention. For example, the service is looking to continue its growth of fighter training by possibly creating a specific training track for helicopter pilots to increase capacity for fixed wing pilots, said Grosso. This is in addition to the two new F-16 training units and more training for Active Duty pilots at Air National Guard units. For retention, the service is also looking to let Air National Guard and Reserve pilots volunteer for 179 or 365-day deployments to help Active Duty units, Grosso said. This is all in addition to pilot bonuses and efforts to increase flight training to keep pilots happy in uniform.(Read Grosso's prepared testimony.)

See also: The Pendulum Swings Back from the May issue of Air Force Magazine.