Air Force Budgets Less for Bonus Pay for its Toughest Jobs in 2024

Air Force training instructor practices for the graduation parade ceremony.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Darren Morrow, 737th Training Group military instructor, practices for the graduation parade ceremony, Dec. 12, 2018, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sarayuth Pinthong)

The Air Force could potentially cut millions of dollars in bonus pay reserved for airmen in some of the service's toughest jobs if Congress approves its 2024 budget request as it is written.

Budget documents provided by the service detail a $92.2 million ask in fiscal 2024 for Special Duty Assignment Pay, or SDAP, a monthly bonus meant to reward enlisted airmen for working particularly difficult jobs. Last year, it asked for an estimated $96.2 million for the financial incentive.

"These are extremely difficult duties that may involve an unusual degree of responsibility in military skill," according to the budget request. "The Air Force conducts SDAP reviews and requires periodic justification of these duties, resulting in changes as needed."

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Under last year's budget request, the Air Force said the bonus would be for an estimated 33,500 airmen. Under the fiscal 2024 ask, it would be for around 29,800 airmen, according to the service's documents.

The new fiscal year begins in October, though Congress is often months late in approving a funding plan for the military. Lawmakers could also choose to make changes in Air Force spending.

Special Duty Assignment Pay is reserved for some of the toughest jobs in the Air Force, ranging from Basic Military Training instructors and recruiters to combat controllers and pararescue operators.

The bonuses can range anywhere from $75 to $450 extra a month, according to budget documents, a figure that many airmen come to rely on when budgeting or deciding whether to take on more responsibilities.

The Air Force said that specific job specialty codes that qualify for the bonus and the overall budget for Special Duty Assignment Pay will likely change, either prior to the budget being approved or after the fact during fiscal 2024.

"The FY24 Special Duty Assignment Pay program has not been finalized," Rose Riley, a Department of the Air Force spokeswoman, told "The funding will be adjusted in the execution year based on the situation at the time."

The Air Force was in a similar situation with its fiscal 2023 budget request.

Last year, the Department of the Air Force was facing a $3 million shortfall to its Special Duty Assignment Pay program. Weeks before the budget was set to be enacted, Secretary Frank Kendall announced during the the Air & Space Forces Association's annual conference in September that he would reverse it.

"The past several months of inflation has put unique pressures on the finances of some of our airmen and Guardians in critical specialties," Kendall said during his speech at the conference. "Our system to adjust special duty pay was out of sync with the rapid changes [on] our economy brought on by COVID and the invasion of Ukraine."

For fiscal 2023, the Department of the Air Force originally asked for $90.2 million, which was boosted to $96.2 million after Kendall's speech, according to the budget documents. The service has also asked for an additional $11 million to bolster Special Duty Assignment Pay for 2023 to more than $100 million but that has not yet been approved, Air Force officials told

According to the fiscal 2024 budget request, these are the roles that qualify for Special Duty Assignment Pay:

  • Recruiters
  • Basic Military Training (BMT) instructors
  • Human Intelligence (HUMINT) debriefers
  • Combat Controllers (CCT)
  • Pararescue (PJ) operators
  • Command chief master sergeants
  • First sergeants
  • Defense Attaché Office (DAO) liaisons
  • Enlisted Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSCs) critical to the Nuclear Enterprise
  • Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) agents
  • Air Traffic Control (ATC) supervisors
  • Postal and National Defense Advisory Commission (NDAC) enablers
  • Tactical Air Command and Control Party (TACP) operators
  • Enlisted weapons directors
  • Parachute instructors with the test parachute program
  • Special Reconnaissance operators
  • Phoenix Raven Security Forces defenders
  • Forward Area Refueling Point (FARP) enablers
  • Flying crew chiefs
  • Defense couriers
  • Enlisted airmen of two joint and headquarters operational and support commands
  • Enlisted airmen of three special government agencies
  • Public affairs assigned to recruiting squadrons
  • Air transportation airmen
  • Classified Air Force projects airmen

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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