Maintenance crews perform recovery checks on an F-15C. Civilian maintenance crews from Air Combat Command returned to work last week. (US Air Force)
WASHINGTON — The US Air Force’s Air Combat Command (ACC) ended a shutdown-imposed grounding of training aircraft last week , but some combat craft remain grounded.
“All formal training units, which spin up pilots who are new to a particular aircraft, were able to resume operations once civilians returned to duty, but we still have combat-coded units that are stood down,” Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, ACC spokesman, wrote in an email. “As the shutdown continues, we’re making adjustments as changes in unit readiness levels require us to restart flying to maintain an ability to meet our operational taskings.”
Approximately 7,500 civilians were furloughed on Oct. 1. A day later, ACC announced it was grounding aircraft that are not immediately being used to train for deployment, a direct result of the furloughs. Nine combat-coded squadrons, along with 26 training and test units in ACC, were ordered to stop flying.
Following a decision by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to bring back the vast majority of furloughed Pentagon civilians, all ACC civilians returned to work on Oct. 7.
The stand down order came three months after ACC lifted its sequestration-based grounding of 17 combat-coded squadrons.
This year, Air Force officials said it would take about 90 days after the previous grounding ended for pilots and crews to regain currency for higher-end missions. And it would take more time after that to be completely combat ready, Lt. Gen. Burton Field, the deputy chief of staff for operations, said in July.
ACC is trying to keep all combat-coded units that are scheduled for operations within the next few months training at mission ready levels, but the longer the units remain grounded, the more degradation to readiness.
“Over time, if you want to ensure an acceptable level of readiness in support of ongoing or emerging taskings, you need to resume flying those grounded units,” Sholtis said. “We’re managing those adjustments based on a recurring review of where we stand in terms of readiness and missions — more of a week by week approach, rather than ... turning everything back on at one time.”
Brian Everstine in Washington contributed to this report.