Air Combat Command officials continue to take actions to slow, and within the near-term dramatically restrict, fiscal 2013 spending in light of pending sequestration and a projected $1.8 billion shortfall in overseas contingency funding.
“We are prioritizing our efforts to sustain force structure and preserve combat capability for the joint force,” said Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of ACC.
Hostage previously directed ACC units to reduce discretionary spending to the maximum extent possible without affecting mission readiness. Spending for temporary duties, equipment purchases and facility sustainment, restoration and modernization programs are being aggressively scrutinized or deferred in order to minimize spending.
ACC units are currently executing the wing flying-hour program to maintain combat readiness, and will adjust as sequestration-driven specifics are available. Depending on the outcome of budget decisions, ACC may have to reduce flying operations for two-thirds of squadrons across the command by mid to late May. This includes fighters, non-nuclear bombers, command-and-control, personnel recovery, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
“Remaining as mission-ready as possible is our imperative, and priority for flying hours will go to units that are deployed or preparing to deploy and to formal training units that provide fully qualified aircrews,” said Hostage.
If flying hours are drastically cut, aircrews will make heavy use of simulators and academic training to maintain basic skills, and maintainers will complete upgrade training and scheduled maintenance to the extent possible given availability of spare parts. While each weapon system is different, on average fighter pilots lose their currency to fly combat missions after 120 days of non-flying. It takes approximately 90 days to conduct training to return a fighter pilot to CMR status, and recovering from lost currencies would take approximately 6 to 12 months.
The two largest aircraft test and training ranges in the United States will also be affected under sequestration. The Nevada Test and Training Range, and the Utah TTR may close in early summer, which would further affect combat training and test-and-evaluation evaluation activities. ACC’s aerial demonstration teams, which are used for recruiting and public awareness of the Air Force mission, are continuing their certification procedures for the 2013 season, but officials realize changes may be required under sequestration. Adjustments to the schedules will be announced as appropriate.
On Feb. 12, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III told the Senate Armed Services Committee that unprecedented budget factors have placed the nation’s defense strategy in jeopardy.
“Sequestration threatens to carve crucial capability from America’s Air Force, with alarming and immediate effects on people, readiness and infrastructure, and, eventually, on modernization,” said Welsh. “If it occurs, it will significantly undermine your Air Force’s readiness and responsiveness today.”
Sequestration will have an effect through the remainder of fiscal year 2013 unless rescinded. The impact on ACC operations beyond fiscal 2013 will be determined when the fiscal year 2014 budget becomes more clearly defined.