The Navy is offering aviators as much as $175,000 to stay in uniform as it struggles with a pilot shortage.
Pilots selected for promotion to lieutenant commander could get that much for agreeing to stay in the service for five years under a 2018 retention bonus program, according to a Navy administrative message released this week.
Three-year commitments could net pilots bonuses of up to $90,000, depending on which aircraft they fly. The bonus program also offers senior pilots $100,000 for a commitment to serve three more years, including a tour as an installation commander, according to the message.
Naval officers with the rank of commander are the top leaders and flag officers of tomorrow, Navy personnel chief Vice Adm. Robert Burke said in the message.
“Their skills and leadership experience are essential to the success of the Navy,” he said. “Our return on investment is the retention for continued Navy service of our aviation warfighters, with their invaluable, irreplaceable skill sets and leadership.”
The Navy is facing acute shortages of strike fighter, electronic attack and helicopter mine countermeasure pilots, said Burke, who testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee on military readiness last month.
“Each did not retain sufficient numbers of O-4 [lieutenant commander] pilots to meet all operational department head requirements in our aviation squadrons,” he said in his testimony. “Navy is applying a combination of monetary and nonmonetary incentives focused on meeting aviator career expectations and quality of life/service.”
The Navy said the bonuses are needed to stem pilot losses to the civilian sector.
“We asked Aviators of all ranks how we should modernize and improve moving forward,” said Capt. Michael Baze, head of aviation career management at Naval Personnel Command in a press release. “Aviators reported they wanted our programs to be more flexible, merit based, and competitive with civilian opportunities. We took that feedback seriously, incorporating each of these elements in the program changes you see here today.”
Cmdr. Thomas Bodine, a former TOPGUN instructor now serving as an executive fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said the incentives show that the service is willing to reward aviators who excel.
“The decision to remain in the Navy or to separate is a deeply personal one,” he said. “The new bonus payouts are concrete proof that the Navy values its aircrew.”
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