ARLINGTON, Va. — Belt-tightening for the war on terror is cutting into flying hours in the Pacific, which could reduce readiness, according to Pacific Air Forces commander Gen. Paul Hester.

In the Pacific theater, the Air Force’s flight training program has been cut by $50 million, Hester said Thursday in Washington.

That’s 9 percent less than the original 2005 budget, he said.

“Every command in our Air Force that flies airplanes is taking money out of its flying hour program to help offset” a predicted $3 billion shortfall for the year, Hester said.

Hester said that he is concerned that losing sky time will degrade his pilots’ critical skills, because flying training hours are “core to the training that leads to readiness.”

“Obviously when … you start taking down specific training flights, you are, in fact, starting to eat away into readiness,” Hester said.

Hester said he had to take “roughly $50 million out of my flying program this year” because the Air Force, like the other military services, is paying for the costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pentagon leaders are asking Congress to approve a special $82 billion supplemental appropriations request to cover the missions’ costs, but until the bill passes, the services are shifting money from their regular 2005 operations and maintenance (O&M) budgets into their war coffers.

And for the Air Force, cutting flight training hours “provides us with the biggest bulk” of savings in the O&M account, Hester said.

The training cuts are being “applied broadly to every wing in the Pacific,” Hester said.

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard Myers asked the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to approve the bill by April 29. A spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee said Congress is likely to pass the bill in late May.

Pilots at Misawa Air Base in Japan, for example, have lost at least 625 training hours, Hester said. To minimize the effects of the cuts, Hester said he has prioritized the PACAF flying training schedule “to focus on very, very specific mission,” namely, pilots preparing to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.

PACAF pilots not scheduled for an imminent deployment are finding their flying hours reduced, Hester said.

Hester has also “curtailed the amount of exercise play we’re doing,” choosing, for example, to send only 14 Air Force representatives to Australia for a recent exercise, “instead of the 100 I would normally provide.”

And “any deployment of people to (South) Korea for an exercise has been cut this year,” Hester said. “We’re playing only in exercises with people we (already) have on the Korean Peninsula.”

In addition to curtailing flight time, “we’ve taken hits in many other areas,” Hester said, noting that PACAF base commanders are now performing only emergency repairs to their facilities.

PACAF officials are also considering “cutting quality of life issues,” Hester said, such as transition assistance for airmen preparing to leave the service.

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