Profound readiness decay, billions in unexpected costs, an unrecoverable maintenance backlog, and potential large-scale reductions in force are among the many predictable problems awaiting the Air Force if Congress fails to stop the looming budget sequester from taking effect in March and/or pass a budget for Fiscal 2013, said senior service officials on Thursday. At a press roundtable in the Pentagon, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer said: “As things stand today, we don’t know how much money we will have to operate the Air Force, and we don’t know when we will find out. But we do know sequestration will mean Air Force people will not be adequately trained, and will lack the equipment they need.” Acting Air Force Undersecretary Jamie Morin said the Air Force’s share of the Fiscal 2013 sequester hit would be $12.4 billion—not including another $1.8 billion in shortfalls from the overseas contingency operations accounts—and the Air Force would have to reduce spending that much in just six months. Flying hours would plummet; only those units in or going to war would get their requisite hours, leaving many units idle for as much as three months, said Morin during the Feb. 7 roundtable. After just 30 days of inactivity, “essentially all” functions in a unit—pilots, maintainers, loaders, fuelers, etc.—would be “non-mission-capable.” and it would take a long time to get them back up to par, he pointed out. Spencer noted that the sequester problem just starts in Fiscal 2013; more years of sequestrations could come, and that would compel the Air Force to start thinking about a reduction in force to “balance” people with the equipment and funds available. Meanwhile, Morin said, the American people haven’t signaled they want their Air Force to do fewer missions.
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.