RAF LAKENHEATH, England — U.S. Air Force wings based in the United Kingdom have imposed a hiring freeze on its British Ministry of Defence work force in order to free up funds for the service’s war-fighting operations, including the replacing of its aging aircraft.

The 48th Fighter Wing, 100th Air Refueling Wing and 501st Combat Support Wing are also scrutinizing the hiring of other civilian jobs in the penny-pinching move created as a result of the latest round of Air Force Smart Operations 21 spending cuts.

“We are not actively eliminating people from our payroll,” Col. John Clarke, 48th Mission Support Group commander, said earlier this week. “No one will get a pink slip from this.”

“The bottom line is that we’re trying to get smarter on how we do business.”

U.K. bases have to cut $2 million from each wing’s budgets.

Other wings under U.S. Air Forces in Europe are undergoing cuts as well, according to 3rd Air Force spokesman Maj. John Haynes.

“It’s Air Force-wide, and USAFE is just getting us to pony up with what they were tasked with,” Haynes said of the U.K. bases on Friday afternoon.

USAFE spokesmen were unable to provide Stripes the exact amount of spending cuts being made by each USAFE wing by deadline. However, the U.K.-based wings are the only ones in theater implementing a hiring freeze on its civilian work force right now, according to USAFE spokesman Capt. Greg Hignite.

Clarke said it would be up to wing and group leadership in the U.K. to decide whether to replace the jobs of outgoing MOD personnel, leave the positions open or fill them with a U.S. military member.

“If we have a U.S. military member to do that function we’ll do that,” he said.

Nonessential positions, such as administrative assistants and others not directly tied to war-fighting efforts would directly be affected by this budget crunch, he said.

Firefighters and other jobs that deal with life and safety wouldn’t be affected, he added.

The 48th Fighter Wing currently has 532 MOD positions filled from a total of 605 authorized billets. The 100th Air Refueling Wing has 454 slots filled out of 567, while the 501st Combat Support Wing has 1,013 out of 1,380.

“It will fluctuate up and down,” Clarke said of the 48th numbers. “We’re not saying we can’t go over 532, we just have to do a careful review to hire those billets.”

Union concernsThe Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents 22,000 MOD employees, voiced its concerns Friday regarding the Air Force’s plan.

“They need to look at it from a strategic approach instead of a one-size-fits-all approach,” Paul Barnsley, the union’s national officer said. “Every base will be different.”

Barnsley said he has already received complaints from regional union officers about the recruitment ban worsening its already inadequate resources.

And although the Air Force is adamant that its latest tactic does not fire anyone, Barnsley believes that the vacant jobs over time will erode the MOD work force at these bases.

“That sounds like job cuts to me,” he said.

Barnsley said the union is in talks with top MOD officials.

“Our members are committed to defense and the armed forces. Hopefully the [British] government shares our view.”

In agreementIn March, wing commanders agreed to the hiring freeze to help reduce operating and maintenance budgets.

Clarke insists that wings across the Air Force are cutting back on expenditures as well to help pay for the pricey task of upgrading its aging aircraft.

RAF Lakenheath’s 48th Fighter Wing flies F-15 jets, which eventually will be replaced by F-22 Raptors.

At nearby RAF Mildenhall, 100th Air Refueling Wing aircrews often fly 50-year-old KC-135 Stratotankers.

Besides eliminating jobs, Lakenheath officials are aiming to save additional money by limiting unnecessary service contracts, such as building maintenance, cleaning and landscaping.

“If these were contracts that we could live without, we have plans to reduce them in the future years,” said Maj. Chris De Jesus, 48th Comptroller Squadron commander.

Clarke and De Jesus wouldn’t go into any specifics regarding the contracts but ensured that no contracts have been canceled yet.

Jobs by the numbers

Number of British Ministry of Defence jobs currently filled and authorized within U.S. Air Force wings in the U.K.:

48th Fighter WingFilled: 532Authorized: 605

100th Air Refueling WingFilled: 454Authorized: 567

501st Combat Support WingFilled: 1,013Authorized: 1,380

Source: U.S. Air Force

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