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May 29, 2015

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Budget:

Sequestration-necessitated ‘stand down’ to mean fewer aircraft over Nellis

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Steve Marcus

A French Mirage fighter jet takes off at Nellis Air Force Base Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2013. The French fighters were participating in Green Flag exercises.

Aircraft at Nellis Air Force Base will spend less time in the skies over Nevada beginning Saturday as the Air Force cuts thousands of flight hours — the latest ramification of federal budget cuts on the military.

The cut in flights at Nellis comes after the Air Combat Command, headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, mandated an Air Force-wide decrease of 45,000 flight hours by Oct. 1.

Defense and nondefense programs have been forced to cut spending by 10 percent in an effort to reduce the national debt. The across-the-board cuts, dubbed sequestration, went into effect March 1 when Congress failed to agree on a deficit-reduction plan.

Already, Nellis has placed forced furloughs on civilian employees and canceled shows by its popular Thunderbirds air-demonstration squad. The newest decision will shake up life at Nellis, affecting the way its airmen train and canceling many of its training programs that rely on those flight hours to instruct crews both in the air and on the ground.

"We provide the advanced, realistic and relevant combat training to the rest of our combat force," Brig. Gen. Charles Moore, 57th Wing commander, said in a news release. With the latest cuts, “that advanced training is not going to exist."

The “stand down” at Nellis will affect everyone from pilots and instructors to crew chiefs and maintenance staff. The limitation of flying hours means squadrons will stand down or maintain readiness at the reduced “basic mission capable” level rather than at full “combat mission ready,” according to the online DefenseNews.

Nellis officials could not confirm whether any civilian or military personnel would lose their jobs over the stand down.

Among Nellis’ training programs to fall victim to the budget cuts is Red Flag. The base’s July session has been canceled, according to Nellis officials. The exercise, which is staged four times each year, is designed to prepare inexperienced airmen for battle through the most realistic air-to-air combat simulation in the world.

Nellis’ U.S. Air Force Weapons School’s second session of the year also has been canceled. The program trains about 80 officers every six months to become expert instructors on weapons, weapons systems, and air and space integration, according to Nellis officials. Those officers would then typically go out and provide advanced instruction to their commanders.

Two of 10 scheduled Green Flag West air-to-ground operations training exercises also have been canceled.

In response, squadron and group commanders in the 57th Wing, which manages flight operations at Nellis, are putting an emphasis on academic training and ground exercises to prepare their charges. Nellis officials said that could mean a shift to using flight simulators to help pilots stay sharp and maintain their basic skills.

The cuts will not affect flight operations in the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group, which tests America’s latest air combat technology at Nellis.

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