Navy Cuts Flight Hours, Cancels Performances as It Deals with Aviation Budget Shortfall

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An MH-60S Seahawk Helicopter assigned to Sea Combat Squadron SIX (HSC-6) provides aerial coverage to joint coalition forces during a training scenario at exercise Red Flag-Rescue 19-1 near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, May 11, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Taylor Harrison)
An MH-60S Seahawk Helicopter assigned to Sea Combat Squadron SIX (HSC-6) provides aerial coverage to joint coalition forces during a training scenario at exercise Red Flag-Rescue 19-1 near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, May 11, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Taylor Harrison)

The Navy will curtail flight hours for several East Coast rotary- and fixed-wing aviation units and cut several air show performances after demands on deployed patrol squadrons led to a budget shortfall of more than $100 million.

Navy H-60 Sea Hawk pilots in helicopter sea combat and maritime strike squadrons will see their flight hours cut by 25% for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, according to a Navy aviation official familiar with the plans. Pilots who fly in planes in maritime patrol or fleet support squadrons will also face a 10% flight hour reduction, the official said.

Officials with Naval Air Forces declined to comment on the plans to deal with the $100 million-plus budgetary lapse, first reported by USNI News, except to say there will be no impact on deployed or deploying units.

"The readiness of naval aviation is higher than it has been in more than a decade and continues to climb," said Cmdr. Ron Flanders, a spokesman for the command. "We are doing the best we can to manage our resources, sustain readiness recovery, and keep the operating forces lethal and ready to fight."

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All deployed units with aircraft carriers or other operational squadrons are fully resourced, Flanders added.

The personnel who will be affected by the cuts will be from non-deployed units at Oceana and Norfolk, Virginia, and Jacksonville, Florida, the aviation official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Military.com.

Aside from the Blue Angels demonstration team, the Navy will also be curbing most air show and flyover performances for the next few months. The service had already canceled one performance as it assessed the budget fallout.

"Those performances were mostly curtailed for the remainder of the fiscal year," the aviation official said. "Most of them have been canceled as we prioritize the production of student aviators over flight demonstrations."

Though most of the shows for the rest of July, August and September have been cut, the Navy is still taking requests for flyovers and other performances for fiscal 2020, which starts Oct. 1.

The budget cuts are a result of the high demand placed on maritime-patrol squadrons overseas, according to the official with knowledge of the situation. Those units fly reconnaissance, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare missions. Most of the demands were placed on squadrons from Naval Air Forces Atlantic.

"Deployed aviation units over-executed their flight-hour allocation due to increased demand for their services," the official said. "Units like [patrol] squadrons deploying from Jacksonville and to other places around the world -- there was over-execution."

Reshuffling funds toward the end of the fiscal year is common, the official added.

"It's always a juggling act when you're talking about operational units [because] we don't know what they're going to be asked to do," the official said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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