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Air Force Pilot Shortage Grows to Nearly 2,000; Force Tension 'Significant'

air force pilots over the pacific

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The secretary of Air Force said that, after weathering a 1,500-pilot shortfall last summer, the problem has escalated to being 1,926 pilots short -- or missing 1 in 10 of a force that's supposed to have 20,000 pilots.

Secretary Heather Wilson told Pentagon reporters today that "it's not just pilots, though, and air crew, when it comes to readiness."

"It is spare parts and flying hours and munitions," she noted. "So increasing the readiness of the force so that we win any fight, any time, is our top priority."

The biggest reason for the pilot shortage, in the secretary's view, "is that we are too small for all the missions that we're being asked to carry out on behalf of the nation -- and as a result, we're burning out our people."

"Surge has become the new normal in the United States Air Force, and you can do that for a year, or two years, or maybe even three or four years. But we're asking -- I met someone last week who has just come back from his 17th deployment -- 17 deployments," she continued. "Less than one percent of Americans serve in uniform and protect the rest of us, and they are carrying a very heavy burden. And at some point, families make a decision: that they just can't keep doing this at this pace, and I think that's the biggest thing we're facing, is we're burning out our people, because we're too small for what the nation is asking."