By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle
Continued sequestration defense cuts could mean a reduction in the number of pilots being trained at Vance Air Force Base, said a senior aide to Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe.
Speaking on background, the aide said the possibility that 550 aircraft could be cut out of the Air Force fleet may result in less demand for pilots, which would then be spread across pilot training bases like Vance.
“I don’t see either Vance or Altus being idled, but it could mean fewer people coming through the base for training,” the aide said during a teleconference from Inhofe’s office in Washington.
The Senate Armed Services Committee, of which Inhofe is ranking member, held a hearing Thursday on the impact of sequestration on the national defense.
The sequester involves some $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that began March 1 because Congress couldn’t reach an agreement to trim $4 billion from the federal budget. The military’s portion of that $1.2 trillion is nearly $500 billion over the next decade.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff testified at Thursday’s hearing. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said the Air Force could be forced to make drastic cuts.
“Over the next five years, the Air Force can be forced to cut up to 25,000 airmen and up to 550 aircraft, which is about 9 percent of our inventory,” Welsh told the committee.
If the sequester cuts continue, Welsh said, it will impact the number of pilots the Air Force needs.
“We’ll cancel or significantly curtail mission exercises again,” Welsh said. “And we’ll reduce our initial pilot production targets, which we were able to avoid in FY 13 because prior year unobligated funds helped offset about 25 percent of our sequestration bill last year.”
Those funds, Welsh added, are no longer available.
Continued sequestration could result in reduced promotion rates, a civilian hiring freeze and a reduction in personnel, according to a release from Inhofe’s press office. Military pay increases could be limited to 1 percent or lower, offset by more costly benefits, increased commissary prices and increased housing costs. Military construction and refurbishment could be cut, decreased maintenance on aircraft or ground equipment, and cuts or delays to programs like the F-35 and KC-46, and elimination of entire fleets of A-10s, F-15Cs and KC-10s.
“There is no end in sight,” said Inhofe. “The military started this fiscal year with a government shutdown. They have no guidance and no budget to deal with the harsh reality of sequestration. We have been told that over the next three years much of the $150 billion in sequester cuts will be taken from accounts used to ensure our military men and women are better trained and better equipped than our enemies, further undermining their ability to protect this nation and return safely home to their loved ones.”