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Wed., July 17, 2013, 9:15 a.m.

Mountain Home fighter jets grounded 3 months by sequestration now back flying again

In this photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, a U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle belonging to the 391st Fighter Squadron takes off Wednesday July 17, 2013, at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. Pilots and weapons systems officers at the base returned to flying operations after being grounded for approximately three months due to budget constraints. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Airman 1st Class Brittany A. Chase) (AP/U.S. Air Force / Brittany Chase)
In this photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, a U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle belonging to the 391st Fighter Squadron takes off Wednesday July 17, 2013, at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. Pilots and weapons systems officers at the base returned to flying operations after being grounded for approximately three months due to budget constraints. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Airman 1st Class Brittany A. Chase) (AP/U.S. Air Force / Brittany Chase)

A squadron of U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters at Mountain Home Air Force Base that's been grounded for three months due to the federal sequestration budget cuts is now flying again, after Congress agreed to shift funds from overseas operations, the AP reports. Col. Chris Short, 366th Fighter Wing commander, called the move a "first step" toward regaining his squadron's combat capability after pilots for the past three months were confined to the base's four flight simulators. They can gain valuable practice there, but it hardly mimics the experience of actually flying above the desert faster than the speed of sound, he said. "The stand down had an immediate impact on our operational readiness, and it takes time to retrain aircrews to mission-ready status," Short said. "I'm happy to be flying again." Click below for a full report from Associated Press reporter John Miller.

F-15s resume flights after budget-driven grounding
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press 

MOUNTAIN HOME, Idaho (AP) — A squadron of U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters in Southern Idaho that had been grounded by federal budget cuts since April is resuming flying operations Wednesday after funding was restored through Oct. 1.

The 391st Fighter Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base is among flying units across the country, including the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team, that are benefiting from congressional action that resulted in $423 million being shifted from a fund originally intended for operations overseas.

For pilots and weapon systems officers stationed at the desert base south of Mountain Home, it means they'll return to the skies over nearby training and bombing ranges near the Nevada border where the supersonic jets practice their missions.

Col. Chris Short, 366th Fighter Wing commander, called the move a "first step" toward regaining his squadron's combat capability after pilots for the past three months were confined to the base's four flight simulators. They can gain valuable practice there, but it hardly mimics the experience of actually flying above the desert faster than the speed of sound, he said.

"The stand down had an immediate impact on our operational readiness, and it takes time to retrain aircrews to mission-ready status," Short said, adding, "I'm happy to be flying again."

As pilots were stuck in simulators, other crew members like mechanics and weapons loaders stayed busy by staging readiness competitions and tackling maintenance issues they hadn't been able to get to while the planes were being actively flown.

"It's helped them get caught up on the backlog," said Lt. Bryant Davis, a Mountain Home spokesman, on Wednesday morning.

Mountain Home's forced three-month stand down came as a part of sequestration, the automatic, across-the-board federal cuts that began in March after Congress failed to agree on an alternative austerity package.

It didn't, however, halt operations of the base's other F-15 flying unit, the 389th Fighter Squadron, which has been deployed since late April to Southwest Asia where its fighter jets are performing a combined combat and air training mission.

The base's mission to train pilots from the Republic of Singapore Air Force also wasn't significantly impacted.

Following the shift, this money will fund flying for the next 2 1/2 months, through the end of fiscal year 2013 on Oct. 1, Davis said.

But Air Force officials said that uncertainty over the following years' budgets lingers, as they seek to pressure Congress into funding a military they said would otherwise be ill-prepared to respond quickly to the next crisis, whether it's in the Middle East, Asia or closer to home.

Specifics about fiscal year 2014 and later are unresolved, Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of the U.S. Air Force's Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, said in a statement.

"Budget uncertainly makes it difficult to determine whether we'll be able to sustain a fully combat-ready force," he said.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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