HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- Just three months after the announcement came that it would be grounded indefinitely as part of sequestration, the 4th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base is back in the air.
The squadron began preparations for flying Monday, after the military announced it would reshuffle its spending priorities to get its pilots additional training.
Andrea Mason, 388th Fighter Wing spokeswoman, said it will take about three months -- the same length of time the group has been grounded -- for the squadron to train and fly at full-combat capability again.
The 388th Fighter Wing's 4th Fighter Squadron returned safely from a 180-day deployment in April and was immediately ordered to stop flying because of sequestration's automatic budget cuts.
The squadron has 25 F-16 fighters and pilots, and crews have been conducting ground training, flight simulations and routine maintenance since they were grounded.
Other Combat Air Forces units from multiple commands across the country also began flying again Monday after the April stoppage.
The flying revival was made possible after the Defense Department was authorized by Congress to shift about $7.5 billion from lower-priority accounts to more vital operations.
The Air Force said the restored flying hours represent about $208 million of that allocation authorized by Congress. In part, that funding comes from reducing spending on modernizing the fleet.
While the return to the sky means a return to crucial training and development for pilots, navigators, flight crews, mission crews and maintainers, the leader of the Air Force's CAF fleet cautions that this is the beginning of the process, not the end -- the restoration of flying hours only addresses the next 2 1/2 months of flying, up until Oct. 1.
"Since April, we've been in a precipitous decline with regard to combat readiness," said Gen. Mike Hostage, the commander of Air Combat Command.
"Returning to flying is an important first step, but what we have ahead of us is a measured climb to recovery."
Hostage also said the restoration comes at a cost to future capability, because the shift in dollars will reduce investment in the recapitalization and modernization of the Air Force's combat fleet.
"We are using investment dollars to pay current operational bills," he said. "We can't mortgage our future. America relies on the combat airpower we provide, and we need to be able to continue to deliver it."
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the three-month down time of flying hours still needs to be accounted for somehow.
"Ultimately, I would like to see the full restoration of flight training hours. Addressing the degradation done to readiness over the last three months will take some time, but I am pleased that we are starting that process."