Jan. 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force says it is short on fighter pilots and the deficit is growing.
At the end of fiscal year 2016, the Air Force was short 750 fighter pilots, up from 511 at the end of the previous year.
The Air Force's Air Combat Command said while there is a pilot shortage for all its platforms, fighter aircraft have been hit the hardest by the shortage.
"The health of the fighter pilot community is bad," said Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements (AF/A3). "We focus on fighter pilots, but it's not just (them). We have a national pilot crisis. Essentially the Air Force, when it comes to pilot production, is going to have to change."
Gen. Nowland made his remarks earlier this month at the annual Weapons and Tactics Conference held at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
"Recruiting and getting people on to fly is not a problem," said Nowland. "If you look across the Air Force, the quality of the individuals coming into the Air Force are some of the highest we ever had. That goes for the enlisted and officer force.
"Our problem is capacity. It's how do we get the throughput up to produce the number of pilots we want. It's a supply and demand problem. Air Education and Training Command is working hard on this problem, but it's not something that can change overnight. There is a lot of infrastructure associated with it and the problem becomes complicated as you consider how to man to the increased capacity that we want to build," he said.
The Air Force said it is tackling the problem and has started several initiatives to fix problem areas now and in the long term. Its threefold approach is reducing the number of fighter pilot requirements, increasing retention of pilots and increasing the production of new fighter pilots.
"They [Air Force leadership] care deeply and are taking this very seriously," said Col. Jason Cockrum, AF/A3 director of staff. "They know and appreciate the high operations tempo that our fighter forces have been operating at for the past 25 years, and recognize the new and emerging threats in the Pacific, Europe and the ongoing operations in the Middle East. They understand those demands and the requirements for a strong sustainable fighter force in the future."