The United States Air Force is facing a pilot shortage. More and more pilots are lured away from their jobs in the Air Force and toward contract work or airline gigs. Now, the USAF is being forced to increase bonuses for its fighter pilots for the first time since 1999. The military has put forth a recommendation to increase bonuses to $48,000 per year. Over the course of a nine-year commitment, that bonus ends up topping out at over $400,000. That’s on top of the pilot’s salary, pushing take-home pay to levels that are competitive with outside job offers.

The House has a measure in place to potentially bring that bonus up to $60,000 a year. To be honest, the Air Force has to do something to keep its people. Quality can’t be mass-produced, and there’s no substitute for the time and effort the military puts into training their pilots. In order to compete with the civilian industries, the military needs to start with better pay.

The military will never win the battle against civilian jobs when it comes to predictability, stability, and freedom. It’s appealing to many people to be able to guarantee your daughter that you’ll make it to her recital, or to wear your mustache a tad outside the corner of your mouth. It might also be important to people to choose where they live. Civilian jobs can offer those things.

But civilian jobs can’t offer you the opportunity to fly over a war zone at night and drop a bomb on top of some bad guys. And they can’t offer you the level of training that the military can offer a prospective fighter pilot. Typically, completion of pilot training and a few years’ worth of time in a flying squadron meant a ticket to bigger and better things. Now, the Air Force is betting big on shrinking the pay gap and keeping its pilots.