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Sequestration means fewer F-35s

A U.S. airmen directs the pilot of an F-35 Lighting II while another places chocks around the aircraft's wheel at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., on March 6, 2013.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — The proposed 2015 Pentagon budget already has fewer F-35s purchases in it then what was previously expected, and if sequestration-level funding persists, the number of jets in the air and the amount of hours to fly them will continue to dwindle.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's Defense budget for next fiscal year includes $7.9 billion for 34 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets -- down from the 42 aircraft that the Pentagon had originally expected to purchase.

For the Air Force in particular, the budget includes $4.6 billion for 26 F-35s, which is four less than previously expected.

The Air Force plans to order 238 jets over the next five years, totalling $31.7 million. But those numbers are anything but concrete.

In an overview of his budget released last week by the Pentagon, Hagel doesn't mention a specific number, but says that prolonged funding at sequestration levels will limit F-35 buys even further, as well as cut pilot training hours.

"Under sequester-level cuts, the Air Force would have to retire 80 more aircraft, including the entire KC-10 tanker fleet and Global Hawk Block 40 fleets," Hagel said. "Flying hours would also be reduced, and F-35 buys necessarily would be cut."

Pilots at Hill Air Force Base have already seen flying hours reduced as a result of sequestration. Last year, 24 F-16 pilots from the 4th Fighter Squadron were forced to stop flying between April and July as a result of sequestration.

A report from the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force says many of those pilots still haven't caught up to their peers, with some up to 50 percent less experienced in the F-16 cockpit.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the United States military already has an aging fleet of aircraft that struggles to keep pace with new technological advancements occurring around the world and the defense budget further reduces the nation's air capabilities.

"The budget would reduce the number of F-35 aircraft that will be built in FY 2015 by eight," Bishop said in a statement. "Such actions would delay the program and drive up costs."

While the Air Force outlook seems a bit dark, things are much worse for their counterparts in the sea.

Over the next five years, the U.S. Navy is set to order 35 F-35Cs -- the version of the jet that can land and take off from an aircraft carrier -- which is 33 fewer than originally planned.
 

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