A “crisis” – this is what Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has termed the pilot shortage facing the Air Force. By the end of this year, the service is expected to have a shortfall of more than 700 fighter pilots, a number that will grow to 1,000 by 2022 if the next administration does not change course on defense budget and force structure cuts.
Since 2014, yearly pilot losses have exceeded the Air Force’s annual production capacity. The Air Force cannot train the number of pilots it needs without its undergraduate pilot training bases. That is why Vance Air Force Base (AFB), and the mission it executes, is so critical and will continue to be critical in the foreseeable future.
Vance is one of three bases in the nation that trains and develops only U.S. Air Force pilots to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace. Since 1941, Vance AFB has awarded over 32,500 pilot wings. So far this year, Vance AFB has graduated over 300 pilots thanks to the dedicated and professional military and civilian personnel, outstanding facilities and training airspace, and unparalleled community support.
In return, our military continues to affirm funding priorities for Vance that I’ve supported and advocated for in Congress through past and present National Defense Authorization Acts. This includes military investments at Vance AFB to include a fuel hanger, Armed Forces Reserve Center, privatized housing, taxiway and runway construction and repairs, and a control tower that was completed earlier this year.
The greatest ally Vance AFB has for ensuring its ongoing presence in Enid for decades to come is the community of Enid itself. Enid’s community support dates back to the original donation of the land for Vance AFB, laying a strong foundation for partnership between the city and base. This partnership has continued with the purchase of 300 acres for further expansion of the base, the $5.8 million Woodring Airport Runway Extension Project that can now be used by all Vance training aircraft, and a “Joint-Use Hangar” at Woodring Airport able to shelter these training aircraft from severe weather.
These efforts have made pilot training at Vance AFB more efficient and effective, and enabled Vance to execute its mission. It also earned Enid the coveted Altus Trophy for the best community support in Air Education and Training Command.
As our military leaders have testified before Congress, the world is becoming the most dangerous we have faced in modern history and our military is not at a level of readiness to prevent or even consistently deter the threats. Vance AFB is key to achieving those readiness levels by developing professional Airmen and deploying combat ready warriors around the world. It is an integral component to our national security, and the partnership and teamwork between Vance AFB and the Enid community ensures that mission is accomplished — a fact recognized at all levels of our Air Force.
While America’s standing in the world and future national security hinges on ending the defense budget cuts under the Obama administration, I remain confident of this one thing: Vance AFB is here to stay.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., is the senior member on the Senate Armed Services Committee.