The Air Force faces a tall order: Get its end strength up to 350,000 by the mid-2020s after years of manning cuts.

Air Education and Training Command will be key to that effort, said Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, the head of AETC, in a Sept. 7 email.

“We have already laid the groundwork to begin ramping up to this number,” Roberson said. ”We are increasing our recruiting efforts to [bring on] more airmen, produce more pilots, and build a better infrastructure to handle the increase over time.”

Part of that effort is the new Continuum of Learning program AETC rolled out in August, which is meant to make airmen’s education and training more ”learner-centric,” he said. The program includes a mixture of blended learning, modular learning programs, and on-demand learning meant to give airmen more flexibility to reach their goals.

“It has been said there are no immovable barriers to education,” Roberson said. ”In AETC, that idea is what‘s driving us to look at not just what we teach, but how we learn. This [Continuum of Learning] initiative will affect the development of every airman and civilian across the Air Force.”

The Air Force in June also put new policies in place to allow more airmen to serve as military training instructors and take on other developmental special duties. For the first time in five years, the Air Force began allowing staff sergeants to be nominated to become MTIs.

It also lowered the fitness standards for airmen to serve in all developmental special duties, as well as technical training instructor jobs, so they simply have to meet the same standards as the rest of the Air Force. The Air Force also started allowing airmen to volunteer for technical training instructor duty through the Enlisted Quarterly Assignment Listing, or EQUAL, Plus website.

Roberson said the new MTI rules are “a much-needed policy change.”

“Adding staff sergeants with at least two years’ time-in-grade to the pool of [special duty] applicants provides a larger pool of qualified candidates,” Roberson said. ”The change also balances the work load, placing line military training instructors’ responsibilities primarily on staff and technical sergeants. This moves the senior noncommissioned officers into more appropriate supervisory billets.”

Roberson said the process for airmen to even be considered for special duties is stringent.

“There‘s no doubt that our wing commanders across the Air Force are working to ensure the best airmen are nominated and selected for the critical role of an MTI,” Roberson said. ”I am continually amazed by the professionalism and maturity of our airmen at all ranks and levels of responsibility.”

The Air Force is filling 770 positions across the nine developmental special duties for next spring.

The eligibility to become MTIs was limited to just technical and master sergeants after a sexual misconduct scandal involving MTIs and basic trainees.

The next training aircraft

The Air Force is working to replace the 55-year-old T-38 trainer aircraft with the Advanced Pilot Training, or T-X, program; the request for proposal was released last December, Roberson said.

The T-X will allow pilots to learn the skills they will need in fifth-generation aircraft such as the F-35.

The Air Force hopes the T-X will reach initial operating capability in 2024, and full operating capability in 2034.

But, he said, the T-X will be one of many programs that could be affected by a long-term continuing resolution or the continuation of sequestration.

“While we await a decision [on the T-X], the real excitement on our end is the T-X maintenance training system, which is a separate contract that will be based on requirements from the eventual T-X aircraft, and which will offer us the opportunity to explore innovative ways to train maintainers,” Roberson said.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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