Fort Rucker stands to lose 500 student pilots and 37,000 hours of aviation training if legislated spending cuts known as sequestration take place next month.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Wednesday that he and the Secretary of the Army have ordered the cut along with many others across the Army in anticipation of the $12 billion in spending reductions that must be absorbed across the Army within the next seven months if sequestration takes place.
Sequestration is the term used to define automatic spending cuts that must take place if Congress can not reach an alternative deal. The cuts were supposed to take effect Jan. 1, but were pushed back two months in order to give the new Congress time to tackle the issue.
The cuts are currently planned to begin March 1, although there has been some discussion in Congress to move the date back to the end of March.
Odierno’s comments came during a hearing in front of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. Odierno outlined significant cuts throughout the Army, including those at Fort Rucker.
Odierno said the potential loss of 500 student pilots will result in 250 fewer helicopters that could be occupied.
“That's significant. That's a lot of aircraft. That's a lot of capability,” Odierno said in response to a question from committee member Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery.
“Then what happens is you form this backlog, so it will take us longer to get aviators out of the system at Fort Rucker. That will cause us to have even more unmanned platforms because of this backlog.
“At Fort Rucker, we have streamlined our ability there to train our pilots but we can not take shortcuts because this is very serious business and we've got to make sure that they are trained to the quality necessary to be able be effective as they report to their units,” Odierno said.
“The implications are very serious to our future readiness, and it will take ourselves two to three years to get us out of these problems,” he added.
In addition to the reduction of student pilots, Fort Rucker and the surrounding area could feel other impacts from sequestration, including the furlough of civilian workers, an Army-wide hiring freeze, a reduction in training programs, post maintenance funds and National Guard personnel.