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Cold, Hard Numbers: Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, expressed concern last week about the state of the Air Force, calling into question its readiness, viability of its aircraft fleet, and ongoing personnel reductions. At a Feb. 28 hearing on the 2008 Air Force budget request, Skelton rolled out his supporting data: Readiness has declined 17 percent since 2001 because of continued high operations tempo; the Air Force has grounded or placed mission-limiting restrictions on 14 percent of its aircraft fleet; USAF is cutting flying hours by 10 percent over last year; the service has funded depot purchased equipment maintenance at 74 percent of the amount actually needed; and the service is facing increased costs for fuel, spare parts, and utilities. Skelton noted that USAF has requested an increase of $6.2 billion over 2007, however, he said the 2008 budget has “challenges and increased risk.”