Several of the US Air Force’s (USAF) combat aircraft have resumed flight operations after a three-month lay-off enforced by the current sequestration-related budget challenges affecting the US Department of Defense (DoD).
The resumption follows a $208m allocation approved by Congress for the reinstatement of critical training and test operations of the squadrons in Air Combat Command (ACC) and Combat Air Forces (CAF) units assigned to the US Air Forces Europe and Pacific Air Forces for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends 30 September.
The restored flying hours are scheduled to be primarily assigned to combat aircraft and crews throughout ACC’s operational and test units, including the Air Warfare Center’s Weapons School, Aggressors and the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team.
Noting that the air force’s combat readiness had been in a precipitous decline since April, ACC commander Air Force general Mike Hostage said, "Returning to flying is an important first step, but what we have ahead of us is a measured climb to recovery."
”This decision gets us through the next several months, but not the next several years."
Hostage also noted that while the allocation was an important step forward in preserving the flying ability of the air force, the future remained unclear: "While this paints a clearer picture for the remainder of [fiscal 2013], important questions remain about [fiscal 2014] and beyond. Budget uncertainty makes it difficult to determine whether we’ll be able to sustain a fully combat-ready force."
The restoration of flying hours will result in reduced investment in the recapitalisation and modernisation of the combat fleet, eventually risking long-term future capability, according to Hostage.
Affecting the A-10 Thunderbolt, B-1, E-3, F-15, F-16 and F-22 aircraft, as well as several Aggressor and test aircraft, the grounding was aimed at ensuring other USAF units supporting global missions maintain sufficient readiness through the remainder of 2013.
Image: USAF’s Thunderbird aircraft in delta formation over Utah, US. Photo: courtesy of US Air Force.