The U.S. Air Force is taking one of the biggest reductions in modernization and mission readiness from the sequestration budget cuts, according to testimony on Wednesday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel before the Senate Budget Committee.
The sequester has already forced the Air Force to ground 11 active duty combat flying squadrons since April 9, with two additional squadrons scheduled to cease flying when they return from deployment. Two training squadrons, including the Air Force Thunderbirds, are also not flying, which Hagel said results in these units not being ready to fight on "short notice."
It takes up to six months to get a unit that has stopped flying in a combat ready status, according to Air Force Lt. Col. William Ashworth.
"In response to state and congressional concerns about proposed reductions to the Air National Guard that DoD made in the original FY 2013 budget, the Department added back 44 aircraft to the Guard, 30 aircraft to the Air Force Reserve, and is taking away 31 aircraft from the active Air Force," said Hagel.
Additionally, in a report sent to Congress providing details of the $37 billion in sequestration cuts currently impacting aerospace and defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin
and Northrop Grumman
, DoD is reporting the Air Force's $2.5 billion to purchase 19 F-35s reflects a sequester cut of $503 million.
The president's 2014 budget request includes $8.4 billion for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is DoD's largest acquisition program.
Hagel's comments about the impact of sequester cuts on the Air Force reiterated the views expressed in a recent speech by Michael Donley, Secretary of the Air Force, who called the sequester cuts "draconian," noting the spending reductions lead to the cancellation or delay of modernization programs accounting for 65 percent of total Air Force reductions across the future years defense program.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wa.) agrees with Hagel and Donley that the sequester cuts need to be replaced, and stated her intention to replace them during the hearing Wednesday.
"Sequestration is a terrible way to cut defense spending," said Murray. "That is why the Senate budget takes a measured and fair approach to completely replace the sequester with a balanced mix of revenue and spending cuts. And it’s why I believe one of our highest priorities right now should be coming together to get this done for the American people."
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