Air Force Surveys Officers on Major Changes to Promotion Process

Airmen in formation salute during a change-of-command ceremony at Schriever Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo/Amber Whittington)
Airmen in formation salute during a change-of-command ceremony at Schriever Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo/Amber Whittington)

Should Line of the Air Force promotion categories be split? That's the question the service is asking officers to answer in a new survey.

A proposed change would create subgroupings for promotion, putting a greater emphasis on field-specific expertise. Officials say it would allow the Air Force to promote with an eye to a service member's excellence within specific skill sets as well as character and competence.

"Over the past eighteen months, we have extensively examined how we develop, evaluate, and promote officers across our total force," officials said in a news release. "We have concluded that our current system, which has served us well in the past, is not optimized to support future joint warfighting in this new era. Based on our research, extensive discussions with Airmen across the Air Force (active, guard, reserve, and civilian), and surveys with joint and inter-agency teammates, we believe it is time to expand the Line of the Air Force promotion categories into more subgroupings."

The Air Force has separate promotion categories for its Judge Advocate General, chaplain and medical corps officers, who compete in their own professions for promotion.

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The plan is to break up the single, large category -- which encompasses about 87 percent of its officers -- into six new categories: air operations and special warfare; space operations; nuclear and missile operations; information warfare; combat support; and force modernization, according to the proposal.

The service would sort Air Force Specialty Codes into the categories that best fit. For example, cyber operations (17X), intelligence (14N), operations research analysis (61A), weather (15W), special investigations (71S), information operations (14F) and public affairs (35X) would be grouped under "information warfare."

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein have begun distributing the new memorandum to the commanders of wings, numbered Air Force elements and other major commands across the force. It directs commanders to solicit input from officers and submit it up to major commands by July 31, with a final recommendation due to the secretary and chief not later than Aug. 30.

"This is building on what [the Air Force] is already doing," Lt. Gen Brian Kelly, the deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said in a call with reporters Wednesday. "If you look at the [squadron revitalization] efforts that [Goldfein] laid out a couple years ago, we took some time to go to the field to get a lot of good feedback ... from our airmen ... and this continues this same vein of socializing these ideas."

Kelly and Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Shon Manasco will be deploying briefing teams to various installations across major commands in the next few months.

Once the Air Force gathers feedback, it will revise its plan as it best sees fit, Manasco said Wednesday.

If the decision is to push forward, officers will likely begin to see the new Line of Air Force categories in spring 2020, Kelly said.

The two officials stressed while the current system "is not broken," the one-size-fits-all approach does not allow the service to be as agile as it could be in adapting to new challenges and skill requirements, a growing necessity amid a rising threat of great power competition.

"It's about developing people in those specialties in the right way," Kelly said.

"When we think about the National Defense Strategy, it's requesting us as an Air Force to have capabilities, not just systems and equipment, but capabilities in our people ... and this ability to integrate across multi-domain warfare, and to be more steeped in your technical [skillset] -- you're looking at a different development path."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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