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Today, the US Air Force announced that squadrons grounded since April, from combat units to the famous Thunderbirds, had the funding to fly again – for now. Congress had given the service permission to move some $423 million from other programs into the training budget, enough to keep planes flying until October 1st, when the next fiscal year begins and the military’s money problems may start all over again.
To get the money for that short-term fix, however, the Air Force had to cut back on long-term investments. That includes almost $20 million in new missiles, $50 million in new C-130 transports (mostly the souped-up Special Force version, the MC-130), and about $70 million in upgrades for existing aircraft, from B-1B bombers to F-15 fighters. That’s particularly troubling at a time when most Air Force fighters were built during the Reagan buildup and are wearing out, with one 27-year-old F-15 literally breaking apart in flight back in 2007. (Bombers, on average, are even older, although they aren’t flown as hard). But the service bit that bullet and decided near-term combat readiness had to be the top priority for limited dollars.
“I think they feel a sense of responsibility to be prepared to ‘fight tonight,’ knowing that the longer they are grounded, the more and more resources it’s going to take to dig out of the hole,” one Congressional aide told BreakingDefense’s Colin Clark. “But it also is a double-edged sword because it shows that they can ‘live’ under sequestration, albeit just in the short term.”
“Sequestration” is the term of art for the cuts imposed on federal spending by the Budget Control Act of 2011, with half the bill — $500 billion over 10 years — falling on the Department of Defense. Certainly, the Pentagon could become more efficient and save taxpayer dollars. Just as certainly, not training for combat is the least efficient and, for that matter, most dangerous way to save money you could think of.