Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told lawmakers Tuesday that the Marine Corps’ aviation squadrons are suffering more than ground units — after 15 years of war and deep budget cuts.
Neller said that while readiness levels for ground units are “trending up,” they are not quite where he wants them to be on the aviation side. The goal is to have 80% of the units ready to go, Neller said during a House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing.
He blamed the aviation problems on delays in the F-35 program, budget cuts and other issues like leaving airplanes overseas “probably longer than we should have.”
It was announced in July that the F-35B had achieved “initial operational capability,” but the fighters still require new software and other upgrades before being combat ready, the Marine Corps Times reports. Neller said the Corps has a plan to improve aviation readiness, but it will take time, especially for squadrons that are swapping out older aircraft for the F-35B.
“It takes us 18 to 24 months to take a squadron down, give them a new airplane, train them up and put them back out there,” he said.
Sequestration has also affected the workforce at some of the fleet readiness centers and there are some parts issues with new airplanes –which the Marine Corps needs more of. “We don’t have enough airplanes that we would call ‘ready basic aircraft.’ That means we’re not getting enough flight hours,” Neller said.
In addition to the F-35 — which Neller said is going to replace three airframes, he also mentioned the MV-22B Osprey, as one of the new aircraft. He also told lawmakers that the Marine Corps needs to keep its fleet of older fixed and rotary-wing aircraft flying, the Times reported.
Losing Marines to the private sector was another concern that was raised.
“My concern is that we get enough aircraft that are flyable and that our aircrews get enough time to fly because people join the service — if they want to be aviators — they join to fly,” Neller said. “We know at the same time all of our commercial air carriers are hiring. Delta — they’ve told us — they’re going to hire 900 pilots this year.”
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