The Air Force has grounded the 18th Aggressor Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base due to federal budget restrictions. The Squadron of F-16s is the same one the Air Force has considered relocating to Joint Base Elemendorf Richardson near Anchorage. But the Air Force says the groundings have nothing to do with the potential relocation.
According to the Air Force, the F-16s will stand down for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends September 30th. Captain Joost Verduyn is the Chief for Public Affairs for 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson Air Force Base. He says federal budget cuts eliminated over 40-thousand flying hours across the nation.
“Flying hours that were originally assigned to the 354th fighter wing have been cut and reassigned to pilots preparing to deploy and would need those hours more than we would,” he says.
The 18th Aggressor Squadron is a training squadron. No jobs will be lost from the groundings and Verduyn says the economic impact will be minimal. The pilots will use flight simulators, conduit academic training, basically they’ll do a lot of things to make sure they’re ready to fly when it is time to. As a part of it, maintenance on the aircraft just doesn’t stop,” syas Verduyn.
“You can’t just let them sit, the same way you can’t let your car sit and expect it to turn over six months later.”
Because the F-16s won’t be flying, support operations for a squadron of F-22s based at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson outside of Anchorage will also end. The Air Force is currently working on an Environmental Impact Statement related to the military’s plan to relocate the 18th Aggressor Squadron to JBER, but Verdyn says the grounding is unrelated.
“They are two separate actions,” he says. “One doesn’t have much of an effect on the other because you have lots of other bases being grounded as well. It’s not only us standing down flying.”
The announcement comes a week after the Air Force announced the cancellation of the Northern Edge and Red Flag training exercises both based at Eielson. Those operations draw thousands of military personnel from outside the state and nation.
Both Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski are weighing in on the news. Senator Begich recently left his seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Senator’s spokeswoman says it’s unlikely maintaining his seat would have made a difference, because the grounding is the result of Congress’s federal budget sequester. In an email, Begich says he is “working with the Department of Defense and colleagues on better ways to address [the] country’s budget crisis without compromising military readiness.”
On Tuesday, Begich introduced a bill he says would reallocate funding from what he calls the military’s “bloated and inefficient missile system,” known as MEADS, to “necessary operations like Red Flag and the 18th Aggressor squadron.” Both Begich and Senator Lisa Murkowski supported federal sequestration. Matthew Felling is a spokesman for Murkowski. “We think that not all buckets of money are created equally,” Felling says. “So, we think this creates a vaccumof capacity and readiness in the entire area.” Via email, Senator Murkowski says she would have like to have seen “sequestration implanted in a less harmful way.”