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April 10, 2013

Budget cuts ground military aircraft

NORFOLK, Va. — The U.S. Air Force plans to ground about a third of its active-duty force of combat planes and a top general warned Tuesday that the branch might not be able to respond immediately to every event when needed.

The Air Force didn’t immediately release a list of the specific units and bases that would be affected on Tuesday, but it said it would cover some fighters, bombers and airborne warning and control aircraft in the U.S., Europe and the Pacific.

Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia, said the branch would focus its budget and resources on units supporting major missions, like the war in Afghanistan, while other units stand down on a rotating basis.

“The current situation means we’re accepting the risk that combat airpower may not be ready to respond immediately to new contingencies as they occur,” Hostage said in a statement.

The Air Force says, on average, aircrews ‘lose currency’ to fly combat commissions within 90 to 120 days of not flying and that it generally takes 60 to 90 days to conduct the training needed to return aircrews to mission-ready status.

Returning grounded units to mission ready status will require additional funds beyond Air Combat Command’s normal budget, according to Air Force Officials.

“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.

For affected units, the Air Force says it will shift its focus to ground training. That includes the use of flight simulators and academic training to maintain basic skills and aircraft knowledge, Lingle said. Aircraft maintainers plan to clear up as much of a backlog of scheduled inspections and maintenance that budgets allow.

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