1.0     Introduction

This article is about the United States Air Force (USAF) Battlefield Airmen Fitness Assessment (BAFA) which is the career-field-specific fitness assessment for Battlefield Airmen.

Within the USAF (as of November 2018), what are considered special operations personnel in the other Services are known as either Special Tactics or Battlefield Airmen in the USAF (further information can be found here).

However, the grape vine suggests that soon they will be known as Special Warfare Operators (Soldier Systems, 2018).

This article is divided into seven parts for easier reading. Part One is this introduction. Part Two is a brief history of modern USAF special operations fitness assessments. Parts Three and Four outline the Tier I and II fitness assessments. Part Five highlights fitness assessment exemptions. Finally, the article will provide some useful publications and links, as well as references in parts six to eight.

2.0     Brief History of USAF Special Operations Fitness Assessments

Since the early 2000s, the USAF has proposed a tiered model for distinguishing between physical fitness standards.

In a quasi-manner, the USAF achieved this by adopting the Physical Ability and Stamina Test (PAST) for its Battlefield Airmen. Prior to 2016, the USAF utilised PAST as an initial physical screening tool that had to be passed in order to start training (and also during training where the standards become more stringent).

Each Battlefield Airmen occupational speciality undertook a PAST test that had slightly different minimum standards based on the requirement of each role, as well as different components. Typical components of PAST included an assessment of performance on:

  • Press-ups (push-ups);
  • Sit-ups;
  • Heaves (pull-ups);
  • A 1.5-mile run;
  • A 500-metre swim; and
  • A 2 x 25 metre underwater swim.

Trainees were expected to improve their physical fitness during training and had to meet higher standards to graduate from technical training.

“With help and support from RAND Project AIR FORCE, the Exercise Science Unit, or ESU, began developing Tier 2 standards for battlefield Airmen operators in October 2011.” (Pons, 2018).

Five major steps were undertaken as part of the process to develop what would become known as Tier 2 tests and standards (Pons, 2018):

  1. Identify critical physical job tasks:
    1. Focus groups were used to identify critical physical tasks (CPT’s).
  2. Develop fitness tests and physical task simulations:
    1. Evaluation of more than 100 physical fitness tests (PFT) to create prototype test PFT battery.
    2. Development of 10 test components (Section 4.0).
    3. Design of eight broad physical task simulations (PTS) to approximate the CPT’s performed by operators.
    4. PTS components included: rope bridge; rope ladder; cross load personnel and equipment; casualty movement; and small unit tactics (Parts A-D).
  3. Validate fitness tests and standards versus operational physical requirements:
    1. Testing of PFT battery and PTS to predict operational physical success.
  4. Implement and verify these tests and standards:
    1. Final verification testing of prototype test and standards between January and February 2017.
  5. Document Tier 2 products and provide recommendations for policy during the adaptation period:
    1. Publication of information to the Total Force on how to prepare for testing.
    2. Update Exercise Principles and Methods (EPM).
    3. Development of course to train physical training leaders.

In 2016, it was proposed that the PAST test would be replaced by the Battlefield Airman Physical Fitness Test (BAPFT), with four tiers (Scott, 2016):

  1. Recruitment test;
  2. Accession test;
  3. Training test; and
  4. Operator test.

A number of the tried and tested components would remain, but there were to be a number of new components. Scott provided a good initial overview of the (proposed) test. The (proposed) test from another angle can be seen here.

By 2018, the proposed BAPFT had morphed into the Battlefield Airmen Fitness Assessment (BAFA). As a consequence, the USAF will now have a (true) two-tiered physical fitness standard (Robson et al., 2017):

  • Tier I standards (Tier 1 FA) are designed to reduce health risks and promote an overall fitness culture within the USAF.
    • The current Tier I standards were implemented in 2010 for all airmen and based on projected health outcomes.
    • They provide age and gender-graded standards on several fitness measures, including:
      • A 1.5-mile run.
      • Abdominal circumference.
      • Press-ups (push-ups).
      • Sit-ups.
    • Minimum standards are based on observed statistical relationships between fitness scores and specific health risks (e.g., cardiovascular disease).
    • Also known as the Tier I FA or Standard Air Force Fitness Assessment.
  • Tier II standards are specific to Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSC’s) and are intended to ensure that Airmen are ready to perform the physical tasks and duties of their AFSC’s, aka physical readiness.
    • They only apply to physically demanding AFSC’s.
    • The tests utilised are dependent on job demands.
    • They are based on projected job performance outcomes.
    • Utilise same standard for those performing same job duties.
    • These requirements ensure operators have the necessary physical ability to perform critical job-related duties beyond what is required of Airmen on the Tier 1 FA.
    • Also known as the Tier 2 FA, Tier 2 Operator Fitness Test, or Tier 2 OFT.

In the transition from PAST to BAFA there were exemptions given (Section 5.0).

3.0     Tier I (Standard) Fitness Assessment

As of November 2018, the USAF Tier I FA has three components:

  • Body composition component which is evaluated by abdominal circumference measurements. Also includes height and weight, but not part of the composite score.
  • Aerobic component which is evaluated by the 1.5-mile timed run. There is an Alternative Aerobic Test for personnel not medically cleared to complete the 1.5-mile run who will are assessed by the 2.0-kilometer walk, unless otherwise exempted.
  • Muscular fitness component which is evaluated by two sub-components, which include the number of press-ups (push-ups) and sit-ups completed within one minute.

The muscular fitness component can be conducted before or after the aerobic component, and there is to be a minimum of three minutes between each component.

4.0     Tier II (Occupational-Specific) Fitness Assessment

Since 2018, Battlefield Airmen have had to undertake a Tier II fitness assessment (Tier 2 FA).

The Tier 2 FA is composed of 10 components, with a score of 0-10 points available for each component with each added to make a composite score (from 0-100). See Useful Publications section for an example scorecard.

The composite score is calculated as:

Total Component Points Achieved x 100
Total Possible Points

The 10 components, in sequence undertaken, are:

  1. Grip strength:
    1. PSI.
    2. Measures muscular strength.
  2. Medical ball toss:
    1. Back and side with 20 lb medical ball.
    2. Measures muscular power.
  3. Two-cone drill:
    1. Measures agility, balance, coordination.
  4. Trap bar deadlift:
    1. Five repetition maximum (5RM).
    2. Measures muscular strength.
  5. Heaves:
    1. Pull-ups to maximum.
    2. Measures muscular endurance.
  6. Weighted lunges:
    1. With 50 lb, metronome 56 beats per minute (bpm).
    2. Measures muscular endurance.
  7. Extended cross-knee crunch:
    1. Metronome 56 bpm.
    2. Measures muscular endurance.
  8. Farmer’s carry:
    1. Carrying 50 lb, 4 x 25 yards.
    2. Measures anaerobic capacity.
  9. Row on ergometer:
    1. 1000 metres
    2. Measures muscular endurance, anaerobic capacity and cardiorespiratory endurance.
  10. 1.5-mile run:
    1. Measures cardiorespiratory endurance.

The 1.5 mile run component must be evaluated within 72 hours, before or after administration of the Tier 2 FA, by a Tier 2 FA-qualified Physical Training Leader (PTL). For Air National Guard Airmen, the 1.5 mile run must be administered within a regularly scheduled drill by a Tier 2 FA-qualified PTL. To administer the ALO/TACP Tier 2 FA, PTLs must have obtained training and certification from the Air Force Exercise Science Unit Physical Training Leader (AF ESU PTL) Course or directly from a unit member that was trained and certified by the course.

The Tier 1 FA abdominal circumference component is conducted prior to the warm-up for the Tier 2 FA. Tier 1 FA-qualified and certified PTL’s can conduct the Tier 1 FA abdominal circumference component.

5.0     Fitness Assessment Exemptions

As part of the transition from PAST to BAFA, 2018 to 2019 was considered a transition phase for the USAF with regards to Battlefield Airmen.

On 01 November 2017, the USAF granted a temporary exemption to certain components of the Tier 1 FA until 01 December 2018 (extended to 01 December 2019) for Airmen in AFSC’s (AFGM 2018-36-02; USAF, 2018):

Although they were exempt the aerobic, press-up and sit-up components of the Tier I FA, they still had to undertake the Tier I abdominal circumference component as part of their annual Tier II AFSC-specific fitness assessment.

From 01 November 2017 to 01 December 2018, and then from 01 June 2018 to 31 May 2019, there were also exemptions given to Airmen in AFSC’s (AFGM 2018-36-02; ):

The Tier 1 FA exemption applied only to ALO and TACP duty AFSC Airmen who have been awarded the 3, 5 or 7 skill-level and/or who were assigned to certain special experience identifier-coded (SEI) positions (e.g. O9C, 262, 279, 316 and 914) on a unit manning document. All other ALO/TACP personnel continued to take the Tier 1 FA and followed (then) current test frequency procedures identified in AFI 36-2905 (Fitness Program). These DAFSC/SEI ALO/TACP Airmen had to take the Tier 2 FA with the goal of achieving:

  • A component standard score of 2 or more on the 10-point component test scale for all components; and
  • A composite score of 46 or more on the 100-point composite test scale (See Useful Publications section).

6.0     Useful Publications

  • Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2905: Fitness Program. Change 1 (27 August 2015).
  • Air Force Memorandum Guidance (AFMG) 2018-36-02: ALO and TACP Tier 2 Operator Fitness Test Guidance Memorandum. 01 June 2018.
  • ALO-TACP Tier 2 Operator Fitness Test Standards (01 June 2018).
  • ALO-TACP Tier 2 Operator Fitness Test Standards (01 June 2018).
  • AF Form 4446: Air Force Fitness Assessment Socfrecard.
  • Air Force Fitness Management System II (AFFMS II) User’s Guide (18 March 2015). Due to be rewritten as part of the introduction of the Tier 1 FA and Tier 2 FA’s.
  • Battlefield Airmen Fitness Assessment Exemption Policy by AF/A1 (27 October 2017).
  • Baumgartner, N., Gruse, M., Flerlage, E. & Hanley, Z. (2017) USAF Occupationally Specific, Operationally Relevant Physical Fitness Tests and Standards: Effects of Mission and Environmental Stressors. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 20(Suppl 2), pp.S128. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2017.09.471.

7.0     Useful Links

8.0     References

Pons, A. (2018) Air Force to Enhance Physical Fitness Test, Standards for Select Career Fields. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1422779/air-force-to-enhance-physical-fitness-test-standards-for-select-career-fields/. [Accessed: 22 November, 2018].

Robson, S., Lytell, M.C., Sims, C.S., Pezard, S., Manacapilli, T., Anderson, A., Bohusch, T. & Haddad, A. (2017) Fit for Duty? Evaluating the Physical Fitness Requirements of Battlefield Airmen. RAND Research Report. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR600/RR618/RAND_RR618.pdf. [Accessed: 22 November, 2018].

Scott, A. (2016) Upcoming Report: US Air Force Battlefield Airmen Physical Fitness Test. Available from World Wide Web: http://strongswiftdurable.com/military-athlete-articles/upcoming-report-analysis-proposed-us-air-force-battlefield-airmen-physical-fitness-test/. [Accessed: 22 November, 2018].

Soldier Systems. (2018) Air Forces Battlefield Airmen to be Renamed Special Warfare. Available from World Wide Web: http://soldiersystems.net/2018/09/05/air-force-battlefield-airmen-to-be-renamed-special-warfare/. [Accessed: 22 November, 2018].

USAF (United States Air Force) (2018) Battlefield Airman Fitness Assessment Exemption. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.afpc.af.mil/Career-Management/Fitness-Program/BAFA/. [Accessed: 22 November, 2018].