The Navy Is Offering Some Pilots Nearly $300,000 to Keep Flying in Uniform

U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler pilot
A U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler pilot and an EA-18G electronic warfare officer taxi on the flightline during a Joint Forcible Entry exercise, May 1, 2024, at Misawa Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joao Marcus Costa)

The Navy is again offering eye-popping amounts of money -- nearly $300,000, in some cases -- to keep its pilots and flight officers in uniform and serving.

Aviators who have been selected for lieutenant commander and will undergo consideration for a department head position are eligible to receive anywhere between $30,000 and $280,000, depending on their aircraft and how long they commit to staying on active duty, according to an administrative message released last week.

Strike fighter, electronic attack, early warning, V-22 Osprey, maritime patrol and reconnaissance pilots are all eligible for the top figure of $280,000 if they commit to a seven-year obligation with the Navy.

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"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 message noted.

Aviators are able to commit for five or three years as well, though at lower incentive rates.

The Navy is also offering mid-career aviators extra cash to be stationed in Japan, Guam or Naval Air Station Lemoore in California. Those bonuses vary between $5,000 and $10,000 a year, depending on their aircraft community.

The bonuses are paid out in annual increments and not in a lump sum.

The bonuses themselves are not new. The Navy has regularly offered aviators who are in the running for either department head or command substantial amounts of cash. However, this year's top offerings are much larger in size and scope than previous years.

"Retaining the experience and talent associated with those eligible to serve as aviation department heads greatly benefits the continued success of the [naval aviation enterprise]," the message said.

Last year, the Navy was offering the same mid-career aviators a maximum $245,000 for a seven-year commitment. There were also no location incentives.

In 2022, the top figure was even smaller -- just $175,000 for a five-year obligation. A seven-year commitment was not even an option.

While there appears to be little recent, publicly available data on the topic, government investigations and reports historically have found that the Navy has struggled to retain pilots in necessary numbers. It's also not the only branch facing the challenge.

However, that problem pales in comparison to the struggle the Navy's surface warfare community faces in keeping its officers through similar career milestones. Last year, the Navy offered its surface warfare officers up for department head tours between $95,000 and $110,000 over several years.

Eligible aviators have until Aug. 31 to apply for the bonuses.

Related: Naval Aviators Are Being Offered More Cash to Become Commanding Officers

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