Photo Courtesy of Linda Morton
The U.S. Air Force's combat air forces, as well as the popular Thunderbirds demonstration team, will resume flying today after being grounded since April due to sequestration budget cuts.
The restoration of flying hours was announced Monday by Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command. The change comes after the Department of Defense received authority from Congress to move about $7.5 billion within its budget, with $208 million going towards restoration of Air Force flying hours.
"Since April we've been in a precipitous decline with regard to combat readiness," Hostage said. "Returning to flying is an important first step but what we have ahead of us is a measured climb to recovery."
According to the Associated Press, the grounding impacted about one-third of active-duty aircraft, including fighter squadrons, bombers and airborne warning and control craft. It was required due to the across-the-budget cutbacks from sequestration which sliced $37 billion from Pentagon operations this year.
The restored funds only cover operations through Oct. 1.
"This decision gets us through the next several months but not the next several years," Hostage said. "While this paints a clearer picture for the remainder of (2013), important questions remain about (2014) and beyond. Budget uncertainly makes it difficult to determine whether we'll be able to sustain a fully combat-ready force."
Hostage also said the restoration of funds for this year does come at the cost of future capability if the budget cuts continue.
"We are using investment dollars to pay current operational bills, and that approach is not without risk to our long-term effectiveness," Hostage said. "We can't mortgage our future. America relies on the combat airpower we provide, and we need to be able to continue to deliver it."
Shows for the Thunderbirds had been cancelled through the remainder of the fiscal year and it's not clear if they will be immediately returning to the circuit. As of yet, neither the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels or the U.S. Army Parachute Team the Golden Knights, both grounded along with the Thunderbirds due to budget cutbacks, have announced their returns.