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Aircraft to be mothballed; training slashed

Mar. 23, 2013 - 10:18AM   |  
Sailors watch as aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 fly in formation over the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower during an air power demonstration March 11. CVW 7 is set to stand down due to spending cuts.
Sailors watch as aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 fly in formation over the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower during an air power demonstration March 11. CVW 7 is set to stand down due to spending cuts. (MC3 Justin R. Wesley / Navy)
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Due to spending cuts, aircraft will be sent into long-term storage, training will be limited to a simulator and the daily routine will shift to admin work. And it may begin as soon as April.

These are the latest details from Naval Air Forces, which is planning for the standdown of four carrier air wings as a result of sequestration, the broad spending cuts that took effect March 1 and are expected to cost the Defense Department $46 billion over the next year.

It’s an unprecedented process with many unsettled details, but one thing is clear: This spring, naval aviation will be much different from the winter unless the military gets more money.

CVW 2, attached to the carrier Ronald Reagan, is set to stand down in April, said Naval Air Forces spokesman Cmdr. Kevin Stephens in an email.

The other three will be: CVW 9 on the carrier John C. Stennis, CVW 17 on the carrier Carl Vinson and CVW 7 on the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Discussions are ongoing to determine when and how those three wings will be shut down, but it will occur this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, Stephens wrote in an email.

Less drastically, two more CVWs will be cut to a “tactical hard deck” with reduced flight hours. Stephens could not provide by how much flight hours would be cut.

“It is a complex process to adjust and synchronize a ‘flight operations standdown’ across multiple carrier air wings, while maintaining readiness for future deployments,” Stephens said.

“Aircraft will be prepared for long-term storage, minimizing required maintenance. No airborne flight training will take place. Assigned aircrew will utilize simulators to maintain a degree of proficiency, and squadron personnel will perform administrative and other duties and conduct other general military training not involving flight,” Stephens said.

The reductions will still allow AIRFOR to meet global force management needs, operations in U.S. Central Command, ballistic-missile defense in European Command and training for deployment, Stephens said.

AIRFOR is waiting until the last minute to implement the standdowns in the event funding — or a less painful alternative — emerges. A standdown would reduce readiness and cost money to reverse, as well. There will be differences between how each air wing stands down, but they won’t be disestablished or disbanded, he said.

Early training cut

In another cost-saving move, future pilots will skip a preliminary training step that gave them early experience in civilian aircraft before putting them in high-performance military aircraft.

The introductory flight screening program has been canceled, potentially creating a jam in the aviation training pipeline by May. IFS gives classroom and airborne flight instruction to midshipmen at the Naval Academy and in Navy ROTC before they report for formal military flight school, and it’s a requirement before reporting to Primary Flight Training, unless a student receives a waiver.

IFS, which is like pilot-training programs at local airfields all over the country, takes about 40 days to complete and is designed to make inexperienced fliers more skilled in military aircraft. Studies have shown that successful completion of IFS reduces the likelihood that a student will wash out of formal aviation training.

The Navy stopped new IFS classes Feb. 7, saving approximately $2 million through the rest of the fiscal year. In 2012, more than 1,060 sailors and Marines completed the program.

This cancellation hasn’t immediately frozen the aviation training pipeline, and 35 to 40 students will still report to Aviation Pre-flight Indoctrination this month to learn about aerodynamics, navigation, weather and other aviation principles. They also will learn land survival techniques and how to recover from a parachute landing before graduating in May.

Unless the Chief of Naval Air Training grants a waiver, students who haven’t completed IFS won’t be able to start PFT, the next step in earning their wings.

“Alternative sources of funding for future months of IFS are being explored,” Stephens said.

It won’t be an impenetrable roadblock for people who hope to fly Navy; Navy documents show that students who have completed civilian flight training programs on their own meet IFS requirements.

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