Shutdown Grounds Portions of Air Force Fleet

B-1 sits on the flight line 600x400

The shutdown has grounded Air Force planes at key locations across the country as furloughs and the absence of a budget begin to take a toll on a service working to sustain its operational tempo in support of combatant commanders worldwide, Air Force officials said.

While most operational flights have remained on schedule, one squadron of B-1 bombers at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., is grounded and several squadrons flying out of Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, are grounded as well, said Master Sgt. Randy Redman, a Air Combat Command spokesman.

Units slated to deploy between now and January are flying normal and expected flight routines in order to prepare for their missions, Redman added.  However, with all the furloughs in place, there may not be enough professionals on hand to sustain the Air Force's current op-tempo, he explained.

"There continues to be a high demand for combat airpower during the shutdown, and unfortunately we have fewer people supporting only moderately reduced operations. Should the current shutdown persist, we may need to bring additional personnel back to work in order to continue to support operational requirements," said Redman.

F-22 training flights at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., have continued. Pilots at Holloman Air Force Base, NM, and Beale Air Force Base, Calif., are also flying remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) like the MQ-9 Reapers in Afghanistan and other locations around the world, Redman said.

Pilots at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., are also still flying its U-2 flights, Redman added.

Officials with Air Mobility Command said that logistical operations have been disrupted by the shutdown.

"The absence of civilians and appropriations have been extremely disruptive to the AMC. However, we are still able to get the mission done," the command said in a written statement to Military.com

Overall, the government shutdown has forced the Air Force to furlough 104,000 personnel, delay professional military education and suspend tuition assistance for active duty airmen, said Capt. Erika Yepsen, an Air Force spokeswoman.

"We're still gathering the impacts and trying to figure out how this is affecting us because everything is changing very fast. We don't know yet what the extent of this will be," Yepsen said.

In addition, Yepsen explained that cadet flight training and 20-percent of courses have been suspended at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Furthermore, the service hopes to prepare to participate in "energy action month" in the month of Oct., however all but a few people on the Air Force energy staff have been furloughed, Yepsen added.

Meanwhile, nuclear testing could wind up being in jeopardy should the shutdown continue, according to officials with the Air Force's Global Strike Command headquartered at Barksdale AFB, La.

"Eighty percent of our civilians have been furloughed. That is 1,900 civilians. Day to day operations have been slowed down, impacting every office -- finance, logisitics, medical activities, communications and contracting offices," said Maj. Michelle Laver, spokeswoman with Global Strike Command.

Global Strike Command, which supports Ground Based Interceptors at Vandenburg Air Force Base, Calif., and B-2 bombers housed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Miss., recently conducted several successful tests with the Minuteman II Ground Based Interceptor missile, Laver explained. 

Another test is slated for the end of Oct., Laver said.

"This shutdown could interrupt testing," she said.

The Pentagon's largest acquisition program, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is also being substantially impacted by the shutdown. In fact, officials with the F-35 Joint Program Office said the furloughs are disrupting the testing and development of the aircraft.

"The shutdown is negatively affecting our ability to conduct flight test and other areas of the program such as development, aircraft deliveries and sustaining the fleet are also at risk of delay and disruption," an F-35 JPO written statement reads. 

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