FAIRBANKS — Eielson Air Force Base’s F-16 Aggressor Squadron was back in the air Monday after being grounded for three months because of nationwide budget cuts.
The fighter jets, along with a third of the Air Force’s combat fleet, had funding restored with $208 million of a $1.8 billion reprogramming allocation authorized by Congress. The planes had been grounded in April.
“Eielson’s restored flying hours allow our Aggressors to be in the air again,” stated Brig. Gen. Mark Kelly, 354th Fighter Wing commander, in a press release Monday.
Kelly said the squadron will fly at a reduced rate but will focus on the upcoming Red Flag-Alaska training exercise slated for Aug. 8-23.
Training cuts had come under fire from Alaska’s congressional delegation, particularly Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who criticized the sequestration for failing to give federal agencies and the military flexibility to decide where cuts are made.
The change came after a request from the Air Force to reinstate critical training and test operations for the combat fleet. Congress approved the request.
The action restores flying hours only for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1. A similar maneuver would be required in
following fiscal years.
In the press release, Kelly stated there’s plenty of work to do in the next two and a half months.
“It’s important to get back to flying, but we recognize there’s a long road ahead to return air crews back to mission-ready status,” Kelly stated “We’re going to proceed deliberately and safely to get back on track.”
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 and follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.