Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody had a short response when he was asked Monday if the Air Force was considering reviving its long-dormant warrant officer program: No.
Cody, speaking to airmen at an all-call meeting, said he didn't think the Air Force's merging of career fields in recent years meant the service had atrophied or lost technical competencies that could only otherwise be revived by establishing a warrant officer program.
"At the end of the day, I don't necessarily [think] it would be any different if it was a warrant officer performing anything specific," Cody said. "I think we have an extremely technically competent Air Force ... beyond any nation in the world."
Cody said the warrant officer debate essentially boils down to a matter of dollars and cents.
"When we really have a conversation about warrant officers, we're talking about money," Cody said. "At the end of the day, that's what you're talking about. You don't get different people; they don't get any better at their job. You just pay ... different people different."
And if the Air Force were to start paying some enlisted airmen higher warrant officer salaries as warrant officers, that money would have to come from somewhere, Cody said. Either the Air Force would have to take some funding out of the budget for officers to cover warrant officer salaries, or the enlisted force would probably take a hit, he said.
"This idea that you would just decide to have a new program and would get all the manpower associated with the new program, it doesn't work that way," Cody said. "You're still going to work within the end numbers that you have."
When the Air Force was established as its own service in 1947, it brought over about 1,200 legacy warrant officers from the old Army Air Corps. The Air Force decided to phase out warrant officers and replace them with the senior and chief master sergeant ranks after the top two senior noncommissioned officer NCO ranks were created in 1958. The last active-duty warrant officer retired in 1980.
But from time to time, some observers have suggested bringing back the warrant officer program, most recently last year when the Air Force was preparing to open some drone pilot positions to enlisted airmen.
When asked about drone pilots, Cody said that opening up their ranks to enlisted airmen is a way to help keep up with ever-increasing demand for remotely -piloted aircraft.
Cody said the Air Force chose the RQ-4 Global Hawk, an unarmed reconnaissance drone, for enlisted airmen because it is already a stable, established platform. That way, the Air Force didn't have to deal with the twin challenges of trying to stand up a newer platform while folding a new group of airmen into the ranks of pilots.
"There's no question in my mind it will be successful," Cody said. "This group of prior-service people that will start it out will set the foundation for our ability to look even further left to do it from an accession standpoint."