Ellsworth B-1's return to the skies - KOTA Territory News

Ellsworth B-1's return to the skies

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Three B-1 bombers sit idle on the Ellsworthh AFB flightline.  (photo by Jack Siebold) Three B-1 bombers sit idle on the Ellsworthh AFB flightline. (photo by Jack Siebold)
A 28th Bomb Wing maintainer prepares to launch a B-1 bomber on a training mission.  (photo by Jack Siebold) A 28th Bomb Wing maintainer prepares to launch a B-1 bomber on a training mission. (photo by Jack Siebold)

Submitted by 1st Lt. Christopher Diaz, 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Ellsworth is among the Combat Air Forces units under the Air Combat Command umbrella that will resume flying at a combat mission ready rate today, following sequestration budget cuts that resulted in Ellsworth flying at a very limited rate since April.

ACC announced yesterday that the restored flying hour program represents Congressional action on the $1.8 billion overseas contingency operations reprogramming action, making peacetime dollars available. The Air Force Council has approved the use of $423 million of those dollars to restore flying hours for affected units.

Only a small portion of non-deployed aircrews at Ellsworth flew during the limited flying hours period. While the return to the skies means a return to crucial training and development for Ellsworth aircrews and maintainers, the leader of the Air Force's CAF fleet cautions that this is the beginning of the process, not the end.

"Since April we've been in a precipitous decline with regard to combat readiness," said Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command. "Returning to flying is an important first step but what we have ahead of us is a measured climb to recovery.

"Our country counts on the U.S. Air Force to be there when needed — in hours or days, not weeks or months," General Hostage said. "A fire department doesn't have time to ‘spin up' when a fire breaks out, and we don't know where or when the next crisis will break out that will require an immediate Air Force response."

The restoration of flying hours only addresses the next two and half months of flying up until October 1.

"This decision gets us through the next several months but not the next several years," the general said. "While this paints a clearer picture for the remainder of FY13, important questions remain about FY14 and beyond. Budget uncertainly makes it difficult to determine whether we'll be able to sustain a fully combat-ready force."

Additionally, the restoration comes at a cost to future capability, including reduced investment in the recapitalization and modernization of the combat fleet.

"We are using investment dollars to pay current operational bills, and that approach is not without risk to our long-term effectiveness," General Hostage said. "We can't mortgage our future. America relies on the combat air power we provide, and we need to be able to continue to deliver it."

The 28th Bomb Wing vice commander, Col. Gentry Boswell, noted the need to maintain fully combat-ready forces to support both ongoing operations and emerging contingencies is crucial.

"Our training at Ellsworth is vital to the state of readiness we must maintain in order to respond to any given contingency around the world," Boswell said. "This is an important first step toward ensuring our airmen are able to remain combat mission ready."

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