Air Force Nuke Command Could Furlough 2,900 Civilians Under Sequester

Command expects a 20-percent budget decline.

The U.S. Air Force branch that manages the nation’s nuclear bombers and Intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, will be forced to furlough about 2,900 civilian staffers if large federal budget reductions take hold on Friday.

Congressional Republicans and the White House remain at loggerheads over options for avoiding $85 billion in across-the-board spending curbs for the remainder of this budget year.

All branches of the armed forces and Defense Department would be required to limit civilian workers to an average of four days of paid work per week for nearly six months starting on April 25 if the so-called “sequester” remains in place, according to an Air Force press release issued on Friday.

“Furloughs, like other spending cuts, degrade our mission readiness by delaying or deferring important work. This includes fixing our aircraft and vehicles, staffing our hospitals, handling contracting and financial management, and providing functional expertise at our headquarters,” Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, Global Strike Command head, said in prepared comments. “This affects our mission, our communities, and importantly the families of our civilian airmen who have accepted the responsibility of serving our nation.”

The 23,000-person command headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana oversees 76 B-52H Stratofortress bombers and 20 B-2 aircraft designed to carry nuclear bombs, along with 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles fielded in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. It has previously warned of reductions of flying hours and other operational impacts of the looming budget reductions.

A 20-percent drop in fiscal 2013 funding for the command is projected under sequestration in line with broader Air Force planning, spokeswoman Michele Tasista told Global Security Newswire earlier this month. Updated information was not immediately available on Monday.

Overall, the Air Force branch could face a 20-percent drop in flying hours, Kowalski stated in early February.

Crews of B-52 bombers could see as little as 10 hours of flying time per month after April 1 under sequestration. That would be down from the existing average monthly flight time of 18 hours.

“A 20 percent reduction in annual flying hours, implemented over the remaining six months of the fiscal year, will significantly degrade conventional readiness and limit the quantity and quality of aircrew, maintenance and munitions training,” Tasista stated by e-mail.

She added: “ICBMs are the least expensive component of our nation's nuclear deterrent force.  Since they are in direct support of U.S. Strategic Command and the president we will not take actions resulting in a near-term impact to their mission.  We are evaluating the long term impacts of reductions in installation and weapon system sustainment.  However, we will ensure our ICBM force remains safe, secure and effective.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other leaders at the Pentagon and military branches have vocally and repeatedly warned against allowing the budget cuts to take effect.

The Pentagon said on Thursday that close to 13,000 National Guard troops trained to deal with weapons of mass destruction incidents could see training operations and drills postponed or eliminated due to funding cutbacks.