WASHINGTON, DC -- Even though guidelines for the new Air Force fitness program have yet to be officially approved and released, revisions to the physical training (PT) program already are causing controversy within the military community.

Part of the debate stems from the elimination of mandatory individual PT time during duty hours. Although the new program will require airmen to complete a PT test twice a year instead of annually as in the past, commanders will no longer be required to provide weekly time during duty hours for soldiers to exercise.

In addition to a squadron PT program, commanders currently are required to give soldiers 90 minutes of duty time for individual exercise three times per week.

If approved, the new plan will be the first of its kind in the military to eliminate mandatory PT training. The revisions were designed to emphasize individual accountability for maintaining fitness standards, military officials say.

“It is every airman’s responsibility to maintain the standards set forth in this AFI 365 days a year,” Maj. Gen. Darrell D. Jones, Air Force director of force management policy, said in a statement. “The Air Force encourages organized squadron physical fitness, because statistics show that people who exercise in groups have a much higher percentage of maintaining their fitness and exercise programs.”

About 3.77 percent of active-duty airmen fail the annual fitness test, but the Air Force expects that number to go up slightly once the new standards go into effect. However, a recent Stars and Stripes article stated that “the failure rate could skyrocket” based on trials of the new PT standards.

With the new program, airmen would only be allowed to fail the test twice before they could be discharged from the Air Force. The current program allows for four PT test failures per year before discharge is considered.

The new program is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2010. It is the first Department of Defense (DoD) fitness program that was developed based on science-backed fitness data provided by the Cooper Institute and the American College of Sports Medicine. The revisions were designed to increase soldier fitness, reduce health care costs and increase duty time.