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A KC-135 Stratotanker prepares to refuel a C-17 over the Atlantic Ocean, on Oct. 29, 2011.

A KC-135 Stratotanker prepares to refuel a C-17 over the Atlantic Ocean, on Oct. 29, 2011. (U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON – The Air Force said it would cut remaining flying hours this year by a third, furlough 180,000 civilian employees, stop deploying some squadrons around the world, and even turn off some missile defense ground radar sites if automatic defense spending cuts known as “sequestration” occur on March 1.

Officials from the Air Force on Thursday laid out a grim picture of what the remainder of 2013 might look like, saying the service will have to slash $12.4 billion out of its budget this year unless a deadlocked Congress reaches a deal to avert sequestration in the next few weeks.

“They’re going to be dangerous,” Jamie Morin, acting undersecretary of the Air Force, said of the sequestration cuts.

The Air Force has implemented spending reductions that officials say can be reversed and won’t impact combat readiness. Those include limiting travel, delaying non-emergency repairs at facilities and laying off non-essential temporary workers.

But the steps that will have to be taken under sequestration will have long-term affects on readiness, including cancelling flight hours not directly related to preparing for current combat operations, said Gen. Larry Spencer, Air Force vice chief of staff. And maintenance will stop on many planes not immediately crucial to national defense, limiting America’s ability to respond to future threats, he said.

Additionally, some older missile defense ground radar installations will be turned off for 16 hours a day to ensure that there is enough money to run first-line defense around the clock, Morin said.

The budget uncertainty imposed by Congress not only threatens future operations but is impeding planning, the officials said.

Defense leaders should be focused on long-term questions; instead, Morin said, “sequestration has us looking a month from now, a week from now, a day from now.”

carrollc@stripes.osd.milTwitter: @ChrisCarroll_

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