The Air Force will likely follow the Navy's lead and triple maternity leave from six weeks to eighteen, Secretary Deborah Lee James said Thursday, adding that paternity leave could also increase.

"Stay tuned," the secretary said. "I believe that's coming."

The move to increase maternity leave is under "active consideration" as part of the Force of the Future initiative from Defense Secretary Ash Carter, James told a gathering at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

"It could happen in the near term through the Force of the Future," she said. "And if I turn out to be wrong about that, I've said it before and I'll say it again, I will do it under my authority as Secretary of the Air Force."

James' response was prompted by a question from a pregnant major in the audience, who expressed concern about having to choose between family and the military.

The secretary agreed it was an issue, and said the Air Force needs to try to "stem the tide of qualified, very capable women who at the moment are attriting at the mid-career point at twice the rate of men."

"We do a fairly decent job of getting fantastic young women into our force. We can do better, but we do a pretty good job now. But then we lose an awful lot of them at mid-career," James said.

The service has "tried to make some reasonable accommodations," she said.

"It used to be that women in the Air Force were subjected to the possibility of deploying overseas six months after giving birth," James said. "We've changed that now and now it's one year."

PT and physical fitness tests are in a similar category.

"It used to be for a woman, right after giving birth, you wouldn't have to take that PT test until the six month point," James said. "And what we found was that that wasn't really enough time and women frequently were starving themselves or doing things which weren't healthy to try to get back into shape quicker. So again we just extended that [from] six months, now the rule is a year."

Paternity leave could also increase.

"The paternity leave matter is also under review as part of Force of the Future," James said. "I believe paternity leave, if I'm not mistaken, is about 10 days…That could well be extended. As I said it's certainly under review. However, I see really no set of circumstances where it would be made identical to maternity leave, I think for obvious reasons, because obviously it's the women that are going through the childbirth; they need more time."

The secretary said, however, she was aware of no proposals that would allow dual-military couples to share leave time.

Phillip Swarts can be reached at pswarts@airforcetimes.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @PFSwarts.

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