RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — The loss of highly trained and experienced pilots from the U.S. military to the private sector is a legitimate worry for Pentagon leaders, the Defense Department’s top civilian said.

“It is something we have to be concerned about,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said on Wednesday during a stopover at this installation.

The problem is particularly pronounced in the Air Force, which faces a shortage of several hundred aviators.

Military pilots “are so highly trained, they’re sought after,” which is a compliment to their training and experience, Carter said. “They know that this is going to be a hard life. They know they’re going to be away from their families. They know there could be danger. They know they’re not going to be paid as well if they were working outside the Defense Department.”

Pilot Shortfall

Despite an inventory of nearly 1,600 combat aircraft, the Air Force now faces a shortage of 700 pilots and 4,000 maintainers, according to the 2017 Index of U.S. Military Power, released Wednesday by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.

The shortage affects the Air Force’s ability to generate combat power, according to the Heritage report. “The lack of ability to fly and maintain [aircraft], especially in a high-tempo/threat combat environment, means that its usable inventory of such aircraft is actually much smaller,” it states.

Read more of this story at Military.com.