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Air Force May Ground Some Bombers, Cut Flight Hours to Fund Base Repairs

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Keith Thompson, 55th Security Forces Squadron, checks Identification at the remodeled and expanded Strategic Command Gate on Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., March 5, 2013. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Josh Plueger)
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Keith Thompson, 55th Security Forces Squadron, checks Identification at the remodeled and expanded Strategic Command Gate on Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., March 5, 2013. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Josh Plueger)

If the U.S. Air Force doesn't receive additional funding from Congress to make repairs to hurricane-damaged Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, and flood-damaged Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, the service says it will be forced to stop all rebuilding work at Tyndall beginning in May.

Without supplemental funding for base rebuilding efforts, the service also plans to cut 18,000 flight training hours starting Sept. 1. It has already deferred 61 projects in the U.S. and overseas to find the repair money, the service's top civilian said Wednesday.

"We desperately need the supplemental funding to recover from the natural disasters that hammered Tyndall and Offutt," Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said during a speech at the Heritage Foundation.

She added that more decisions would have to be made if the funding doesn't materialize by May or June.

"These are just the first decisions that we had to make yesterday … 61 projects in 18 states are not going to happen because we have not gotten a disaster supplemental for Tyndall," she said.

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After Wilson made her remarks, Air Force officials said they estimate the service will need $1.2 billion in fiscal 2019 and another $3.7 billion spread over fiscal 2020 and 2021 to make repairs at Tyndall and Offutt.

Without that funding, adjustments will have to be made, some of which pose a risk to readiness recovery, the service said in a news release.

In addition to cutting flight hours, all repairs at Tyndall will stop as of May 1, which will delay a return to full base operations and flight operations, and create obstacles for personnel currently working in "degraded facilities," the release said.

"The flight hours would have a bigger impact on readiness. We're trying to go after things that have the least impact on readiness first," service spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.

Though the Air Force is still working to meet former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' 80 percent aircraft readiness goal, on May 15 it will begin cutting the number of aircraft slated for repairs, singling out its E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system, or AWACS, according to the release. And it will ground five bombers as early as September, the release said.

The service has already delayed 61 projects, including rebuilding the chapel at the Air Force Academy in Colorado; barracks repairs at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas; missile field fuel systems repair at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana; airfield and flight line repairs at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi; requests for research on properly housing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Lakenheath Air Force Base, U.K.; and multiple heating, ventilation and air conditioning system repairs at its bases.

Beginning in July, the service will defer all recovery efforts at Offutt "with the exception of immediate health and safety needs," the release said. That includes delaying additional sweeps of buildings that sustained water damage from the extensive floods that sidelined the base earlier this month, which might mean missing mold growth in damaged buildings.

Last week, John Henderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Energy, told reporters the service is preparing to make more cuts in case lawmakers do not approve additional funding to deal with the unforeseen storm damages. But he said he is hopeful Congress will come through.

"We're going through ... the current-year Air Force operations and maintenance funds to do those repairs" to Tyndall Air Force Base under the assumption that there will be supplemental funding or reprogrammed money to assist with the work, Henderson said. "We're kind of counting on that."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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