Combat Air Forces Grounded by Cuts Resume Flying
Air Combat Command
JOINT BASE LANGELY-EUSTIS, Va., Jul. 15, 2013 Combat Air Forces units from multiple commands began flying again today after many stopped flying in April due to sequestration spending cuts.
The restored flying hour program represents congressional action on the $1.8 billion overseas contingency operations reprogramming action made peacetime dollars available, officials said, and the Air Force Council has approved the use of $423 million of those dollars to restore flying hours for affected units.
The money reinstates critical training and test operations for the CAF fleet across the Air Force for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. This affects CAF units units assigned to Air Combat Command, U.S. Air Forces Europe and Pacific Air Forces.
For ACC, the restored flying hours will be allocated to combat aircraft and crews across the command's operational and test units, including the Air Warfare Center's Weapons School, Aggressors and the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team. Previously announced decisions to cancel some major exercises and all Thunderbirds demonstrations for 2013 remain in effect, officials said.
While the return to the skies means a return to crucial training and development for pilots, navigators, flight crews, mission crews and maintainers, the leader of the Air Force's CAF fleet cautioned that this is the beginning of the process, not the end.
"Since April, we've been in a precipitous decline with regard to combat readiness," said Air Force Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command. "Returning to flying is an important first step, but what we have ahead of us is a measured climb to recovery.
"Our country counts on the U.S. Air Force to be there when needed -- in hours or days, not weeks or months," Hostage continued. "A fire department doesn't have time to 'spin up' when a fire breaks out, and we don't know where or when the next crisis will break out that will require an immediate Air Force response."
The restoration of flying hours addresses only the next two and half months of flying, until fiscal year 2014 begins Oct. 1.
"This decision gets us through the next several months but not the next several years," the general said. "While this paints a clearer picture for the remainder of [fiscal 2013], important questions remain about [fiscal 2014] and beyond. Budget uncertainly makes it difficult to determine whether we'll be able to sustain a fully combat-ready force."
Additionally, Hostage noted, the restoration comes at a cost to future capability, including reduced investment in the recapitalization and modernization of the combat fleet.
"We are using investment dollars to pay current operational bills, and that approach is not without risk to our long-term effectiveness," he said. "We can't mortgage our future. America relies on the combat airpower we provide, and we need to be able to continue to deliver it."