The automatic defense cuts that that took effect in March as part of the federal budget sequester are now taking a noticeable toll on flying time for Air Force pilots.
The 336th Fighter Squadron, known as the "World Famous Rocketeers," is now grounded at Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina, just one casualty of the mandatory cuts to the military, reports The Washington Post
"I have zero readiness and zero-combat capability right now," Lt. Col. Jim Howard, the squadron commander told the newspaper. "It's extremely frustrating, knowing the unit that I had two months ago compared to where we are now."
The Rocketeers were told April 8 that flying would stop the next day and their two dozen F-15E Strike Eagles would be grounded, most likely for the rest of the fiscal year.
"That was a real shock," said Howard. "We didn't think it would go that deep."
According to the Post, the Air Force has stood down a total of 13 combat squadrons, or nearly one-third of its active duty fighter and bomber force, in order to meet a mandatory reduction of $600 million in funds available for flying and readiness.
Pentagon officials say the cuts still leave the Air Force with enough combat power to meet current requirements around the world, including those in Afghanistan and on the Korean Peninsula. But it's not clear, according to the Post, how ready the Air Force would be to meet threats or demands beyond that.
"We are funding the known and accepting risk in the unknown," Gen. Mark Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, told the Post.
In addition, for every month that a squadron like the Rocketeers stands down, it will take the same amount of time to retrain the pilots, according to Air Force estimates.
"If something happens somewhere in the world," Capt. Kevin Murphy told the Post, "it's a little sad to know we won't be invited because we're not qualified to do our jobs."
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