Air Force Special Warfare Physical Ability and Stamina Test and Recruitment Changes 2020

Pararescue combat arms training
U.S. Air Force pararescue airmen conduct combat arms training Nov. 1, 2018, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (Senior Airman Rito Smith/U.S. Air Force photo)

Over the last decade, the U.S. Air Force has changed significantly the way special operations units do business. The service has created ground special operations in combat areas, as well as in other harsh environments and weather conditions around the world. As global threats and technology evolve, so does the special operations community.

Mostly, the changes focused on spec ops personnel and requirements in the entrance exam, but the process to recruit, prepare and train these elite groups of airmen also is changing.

Before you ever leave for basic military training (BMT), you will have some training and early preparation. While in the delayed entry program, a group of former Air Force special ops trainers and mentors and recruiters will make sure you are meeting the standard before you depart for BMT.

After basic training, you will attend the new Air Force Special Warfare Prep Course (formerly known as Battlefield Airman Prep Course).

Local trainers, mentors and recruiters can help you prepare for Air Force special warfare jobs such as pararescue (PJ), combat controller (CCT), tactical air control party (TACP) and special reconnaissance (SR).

The Air Force Special Warfare Prep Course is an eight-week program designed for BMT graduates who have selected the Special Warfare open enlistment to join one of those four career fields. The course assists in building an elevated physical level after BMT and preparing these new airmen for the Special Warfare Assessment and Selection Course pipelines.

“The Special Warfare Open Enlistment [SWOE] allows for Air Force recruits to enlist and start preparing for the Air Force Special Warfare Community," said Lt. Col. Steven Cooper, the commander of the 330th Recruiting Squadron. “If recruits meet the standards throughout the recruitment process, the elevated standards of the prep course, and successfully manage the assessment and selection, they will start the training for one of the four open enlistment Air Force Special Warfare specialty codes.”

Special Warfare Open Enlistment (SWOE). Now you can enlist into the Air Force and be guaranteed one of the four jobs if you meet the qualifications, get through the Air Force Special Warfare Prep Course and succeed at the following Assessment and Selection Training. This is the new Air Force Special Warfare.

The following jobs comprise Air Force Special Warfare, starting in 2020.


Combat Control

Special Reconnaissance

Tactical Air Control Party

The changes also apply to the Air Force Physical Ability and Stamina Test (PAST). The chart below represents the minimum entrance standards for enlisted Special Warfare; survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE); and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) career fields. As with any special operations profession, you will not do well in the training if your goal is only to meet minimum standards. You need to be able to crush these scores if you want to be part of the program.

The recommended PAST scores for SWOE candidates, as well as special warfare transfers already enlisted in the Air Force, to be a competitive student within the training pipeline:

500-meter swim: sub-9 minutes

1.5-mile run: 9 minutes

Pull-ups: 20

Sit-ups: 80-100

Push-ups: 80-100

(NOTE: These are my personal recommendations, not the Air Force’s recommendations, because in schools with high attrition rates of more than 70% (aka any special ops unit), you need to be a solid candidate.)

Consider the PAST test as an entrance exam and your first impression as you go into the community. In order to be awarded a Special Warfare Open Enlistment contract, you have to meet the standards, but there is a limit to the number of candidates who can go to BMT. The better you do, the more likely you will be allowed to join that SWOE contract program.

You also will have to take the PAST test at the beginning of any prep course, assessment and selection. You’ll be expected not only to meet the standards but to exceed those standards.

Also, as a cross-training active-duty Air Force member looking to change career paths, you will be required to take this test. The standards in the chart for you (AFSPECWAR) are a little different than the new recruits with the SWOE contract.

As of April 2020, the Air Force made a few changes to the test as well. See below:

New 2020 PAST Standards as of April 2020

Minimum Physical Ability and Stamina Test (PAST) for Air Force Special Warfare




(for transfers)

Pull-ups 2 min 8 8 8 3
Sit-ups 2 min 50 50 48 -- (not tested)
Push-ups 2 min 40 40 40 --
10 minutes recovery / transition period
1.5-mile run 10:20 10:20 11:00 11:00
30 minutes recovery / transition period
2 x 25-meter underwater swim Pass/fail   -- --
500-meter swim 15:00 12:30 -- --

Order of the PAST: Pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups, run, U/W swims, 500m swim.

You now are going to be part of Air Force Special Warfare (AFSW). This is very similar to other Special Operations Command names: Naval Special Warfare, Army Special Warfare Center and School, though they officially are Army Special Operations Command.

Training should not change even though the minimum standards have evolved a few times in the past years.

I urge you to strive for the competitive PAST scores as mentioned above, but also know that you will be tested in many pool skills, longer runs and longer swims with fins. There will be rucking and other load-bearing exercises involved in your training as well.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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