Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

April 10, 2013

Federal budget cuts ground Air Force aircraft

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A top general says federal budget cuts that will ground one-third of the U.S. Air Force's active-duty force of combat planes including fighters and bombers means "accepting the risk that combat airpower may not be ready to respond immediately to new contingencies as they occur."

Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia, issued the warning Tuesday as the Pentagon braces for more effects of the automatic spending cuts triggered by the lack of a budget agreement in Washington.

Hostage said that only the units preparing to deploy to major operations, such as the war in Afghanistan, will remain mission-ready. Other units would stand down on a rotating basis, he added.

The Air Force didn't immediately release a list of the specific units and bases that would be affected, but it said it would cover some fighters like F-16 Fighting Falcons and F-22 Raptors, and some airborne warning and control aircraft in the U.S., Europe and the Pacific.

The Air Force says, on average, aircrews "lose currency" to fly combat commissions within 90 to 120 days of not flying. It generally takes 60 to 90 days to train the crews to mission-ready status.

Returning grounded units to be ready for missions will require additional funds beyond Air Combat Command's normal budget, according to Air Force officials. The "stand down" will remain in effect for the remainder of fiscal year 2013 barring any changes to funding.

"Even a six-month stand down of units will have significant long-term, multi-year impacts on our operational readiness," Air Combat Command spokesman Maj. Brandon Lingle wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

The Department of Defense overall faces a $487 billion reduction in projected spending over the next decade and possibly tens of billions more as tea partyers and other fiscal conservatives embrace automatic spending cuts as the best means to reduce the government's trillion-dollar deficit.

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