Air Force grounds bombers at Ellsworth Air Force Base - KOTA Territory News

Air Force grounds bombers at Ellsworth Air Force Base

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Jack Siebold

Draconian budget cuts ground B-1s

The Air Force has taken one of the most dramatic steps to cut spending, grounding of its combat aircraft, including the B-1 bombers stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base.

Several times in the last two weeks we asked Ellsworth about the rumors of bombers being grounded but were told there were no plans at that time - although that could change. 

In a news release Thursday, the Air Force admitted it has begun to stand down active duty combat units now through the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30  However, the military says it will continue to support worldwide operations as well as maintaining sufficient readiness.

The Air Force says it has to cut about 45,000 flying training hours.  This is one of the measures the military is taking to absorb a $487 billion cut over 10 years due to the sequestration.  This fiscal year's cut is $41 billion   The current budget woes come on top of another hefty slice out of the defense budget last year, $457 billion.

MQ-9 Reapers will continue operational missions. It is piloted remotely from Ellsworth.

For Ellsworth, this means bombers not currently deployed in support of combat operations won't fly for the rest of the fiscal year.  Bombers already deployed, as well as the MQ-9 Reaper flown remotely from Ellsworth, will continue missions.  The base has 28 B-1s but base brass would not confirm how many are actually at the base and how many are deployed to areas such as Southwest Asia.

"Sustained curtailment to flying operations impacts the base's combat readiness, aviator qualifications and currency on the B-1," the Air Force continued in its release.  Crews cannot maintain combat readiness without flying.  In anywhere from three to four months they will lose proficiency.  It also will take some time to then get these crews ready for future combat missions.

"To mitigate these risks, Ellsworth leaders plan to maximize non-flying training opportunities both in the base's mission simulator as well as on the flightline through maintenance operations," the Ellsworth release said.

"We're entering uncharted territory in terms of how we've had to take this year's cuts and make adjustments to mitigate the most serious impacts," said Gen. Mike Hostage, ACC commander in a recent ACC news release. "Remaining as mission-ready as possible for combatant commanders is our priority, and we're prioritizing spending to ensure this imperative is met."

KOTA Territory News will have more details on the suspended operations Friday when the base's new commander, Col. Kevin Kennedy, meets with local reporters.

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