The Air Force has grounded one-third of its jets from active-duty, which also includes fighters and bombers, according to Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.
Hostage issued a warning that the Air Force was “accepting the risk that combat airpower may not be ready to respond immediately to new contingencies as they occur.”
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.
On Wednesday, when President Barack Obama submits his fiscal year 2014 budget, the Pentagon blueprint is expected to include requests for two rounds of domestic base closings in 2015 and 2017, a pay raise of only 1 percent for military personnel and a revival of last year’s plan to increase health care fees and implement new ones, according to several defense analysts.
For affected units, the Air Force says it will shift its focus to ground training.