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Top general at Wright-Patterson says cuts will be 'far-reaching'

DAYTON, Ohio — Air Force spending cuts will slow plans to modernize an aging fleet, delay or cancel acquisition programs, ground flight testing to a halt except for a new stealth fighter, and could create up to a five-year backlog at maintenance depots, the leader of the Air Force Materiel Command said.

Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger, AFMC commander based at Wright-Patterson, said automatic cuts known as sequestration will have a major impact on missions, installations and hit hard 60,000 civilian employees who face potential furloughs at nine bases in nine states.

The civilians in her command, including 13,000 at Wright-Patterson, could face 22-day furloughs between April and September, a 20 percent pay cut during that time. Seventy-seven percent of the 80,000-member AFMC work force are civilian employees.

"The impact on my people, especially my civilians will be significant," she said. "I don't know anyone who can take a 20 percent cut to their income, with minimal notice, and not feel it. Many of my employees live paycheck to paycheck."

Many have talked about finding part-time work or withdrawing money from retirement accounts "to make ends meet," she said.

"This is devastating," Wolfenbarger said. "We have broken faith with our civilian airmen."

Furloughs would begin in April once employees receive a 30-day notice.

An exact estimate of the size of the cuts isn't yet known until Congress approves a final appropriation. But the command has planned for a $1.4 billion reduction, or 40 percent of what's left in a readiness account and an additional $300 million, or 29 percent less for operations, according to AFMC. It's all part of the $43 billion the Department of Defense must eliminate from spending between now and September under sequestration. The Air Force faces a more than $14 billion share of that cut between sequestration and a shortfall in wartime spending.

"Sequestration will be far-reaching across AFMC," the general said in response to Dayton Daily News questions. "Sequestration impacts every piece of the AFMC mission and, as a result, the entire Air Force."

Spending cuts at the Wright-Patterson will also slow research and technology development at Air Force Research Laboratory directorates and force the cancellation of most evening and weekend special events at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Wolfenbarger said.

In other impacts, she said:

-- The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, headquartered at Wright-Patterson, will slow replacing and modernizing aging Air Force aircraft. "Acquisition programs will be delayed or canceled, some costs will rise, and much needed capabilities will take longer to get into the hands of our warfighters," the four-star general said.

-- The Air Force Test Center will be "significantly impacted" at test ranges. All flight testing will be grounded and test support suspended by the end of June, with the exception of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and a summer test pilot school will be canceled at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California.

-- The Air Force Sustainment Center, headquartered at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, will cut operations at three depots that could mean the deferment of maintenance and modification work on roughly 297 aircraft and 197 engines, a 40 percent drop in operations. "Depot operations will slow down, aircraft availability and mission capable rates will drop, and some aircraft will simply be grounded," Wolfenbarger said. "It could take up to five years for depot operations to 'catch up' once fully funded."

Communities surrounding AFMC bases — such as Fairborn, Riverside, Huber Heights and Dayton — will also feel the pinch of less money in the economy, the general said.

"Less money in the pockets of our civilians means less money to spend at the local grocery store, restaurant or movie theater," she said. "Less money will go to local taxes that pay for roads, schools and infrastructure."

The spending cuts could mean contract modifications with defense contractors, Wolfenbarger added.

"Small contractors, who provide everything from office supplies to bomb fuses, will be hit especially hard since they do not have the financial depth of larger financial contractors," she said.

A suspension of spending on base maintenance for all but the most critical needs will be felt, too, she said.

"My people will come to work at bases where streets, buildings and housing will see all but emergency upkeep delayed," she said.

She held out hope Congress could lessen the impact with House approved legislation sent to the Senate. The bill adds $10 billion to the military's operation and maintenance accounts, boosting spending to $173.4 billion, but takes money from personnel, procurement, research and development to account for the difference, according to The Associated Press. The legislation would eliminate the threat of a government shutdown when a continuing funding resolution ends March 27.

"While not all that we requested, we hope the bill, when eventually reconciled with a Senate version, will give the Department of Defense more clarity and more flexibility as it carries out sequestration reductions," she said.
 

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