IAF squadrons to close due to budget cuts

‘This is just the beginning,’ a senior Defense Ministry official warns

A Double Tail Squadron F-15 takes off during a training mission at the Uvda air base. (photo credit: Ofer Zidon/Flash90)
A Double Tail Squadron F-15 takes off during a training mission at the Uvda air base. (photo credit: Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz announced Tuesday the closure of several air force squadrons as part of cuts to the defense budget approved by the Cabinet in May.

One jet fighter squadron will be completely shut down, while two others are to be combined into one. The announcement caused an “uproar” among air force personnel, according to a Channel 2 report.

According to Channel 10, all of the squadrons employed aging planes and were scheduled to be cut in several years’ time anyway, due to high operation costs.

“This is just the beginning,” a senior Defense Ministry official warned Tuesday. “We must stop burying our heads in the sand. The public does not understand that we are facing an earthquake,” he said, adding that the 2013 and 2014 defense budgets face a combined cut of nearly 8 billion shekels ($2.2 billion).

The IDF is “prepared and determined to carry out its tasks and to continue to maintain the security of Israeli citizens,” an IDF spokesman said in response to the closure announcement. The military has recently completed a multi-year plan looking at the range of contemporary regional challenges, whose budget is “built according to constraints defined by the political leadership,” the spokesman said.

In May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political-security cabinet approved his proposal to trim NIS 3 billion (some $820 million) from the 2013 defense budget. The Finance Ministry had initially asked for a NIS 4-billion shekel defense cut.

As a result, in early June Chief of Staff Gantz announced that operational activity for reserve forces would be canceled for the remainder of the year.

General training is also expected to be cut back significantly. Infantry and armored reserve formations will enjoy budgetary priority and will continue to train, whereas other combat reserve units will only perform basic exercises.

The cuts will also be felt in active-duty formations. Training for combat engineering, artillery, and Home Front units will be scaled back dramatically. In addition, all scheduled General Staff training exercises will be cancelled.

Educational, cultural, and recreational activities in the IDF will also be minimized. More cuts are expected in the coming years. Reserve brigades will likely be closed, and thousands of career officers will be laid off.

In May, Gantz said the army would have to adapt to changing financial constraints. “Because of budgetary cuts,” he said, “we will have to change the way we maintain our skills and our readiness in the reserves. It is important you know that, going forward, despite the difficulties in the budget, we will maintain our skills.”

On Sunday, air force flights were grounded after an F-16I jet plane crashed into the sea off the coast of Gaza during a training mission.

The pilot and navigator succeeded in safely ejecting from the aircraft before it hit the water. They were later rescued by the air force’s 669 search and rescue unit and were airlifted to Tel Hashomer Hospital outside Tel Aviv where they underwent medical inspections. They were later released in good condition. Parts of the plane were recovered.

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