NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Many flying units under the 57th Wing grounded by the Air Combat Command stand down in June began flying again July 15 after Congressional efforts re-allocated $423 million from a $1.8 billion overseas contingency operations reprogramming action to support the temporary restoration of flight training hours.
For ACC, the restored flying hours will be allocated to combat aircraft and crews across the command’s operational and test units, including the United States Air Force Warfare Center’s Weapons School, aggressors and the Thunderbirds. Previously announced decisions to cancel some major exercises, Aviation Nation and all Thunderbirds demonstrations for 2013 remain in effect.
The money re-instates critical training and test operations for the Combat Air Force fleet across the Air Force for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. This impacts not just Air Combat Command units, but also CAF units assigned to United States Air Forces Europe and Pacific Air Forces.
“Six weeks of not flying has had an impact on aircrew proficiency and mission capability,” said Lt. Col. Douglas Musselman, 65th Aggressor Squadron commander. “We are taking a deliberate and methodical approach to regaining the level of proficiency we consider ‘standard’ for the 57th wing.”
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 cautions 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 Gen. Mike Hostage, Air Combat Command commander. “Returning to flying is an important first step, but what we have ahead of us is a measured climb to recovery.”
Since the stand down, Nellis’ aviators have seen an increased emphasis on academic training and have utilized simulators as much as possible in efforts to keep their skills sharp.
“The aggressor mantra is ‘Know:Teach:Replicate,’ and while we have not been flying, we continued to work on the ‘Know’ and ‘Teach’ areas, which are where we have the greatest CAF and Coalition impacts,”
Musselman said, whose squadron of F-15 Eagle pilots trained to fly as simulated enemies during air combat exercises. “Nothing compares to getting back up in the air.”
“Our country counts on the U.S. Air Force to be there when needed – in hours or days, not weeks or months,” Hostage said. “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 only addresses the next two and half months of flying up until October 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 FY13, important questions remain about FY14 and beyond. Budget uncertainly makes it difficult to determine whether we’ll be able to sustain a fully combat-ready force.”
Additionally, 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,” Hostage 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.”
Editor’s note: Airman 1st Class Joshua Kleinholz, 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this story.