An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 maneuvers on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman on March 8 in the Gulf of Oman. If the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts continue, flight hours will decline about 10 percent a year, according to the deputy Marine Corps commandant for aviation. (MC3 Karl Anderson/Navy)
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More than 70 percent of the Marine Corps’ aviation fleet will not meet combat readiness standards by 2021 if sequestration — the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts — remains in place, the service’s aviation chief warned lawmakers today.
Service leaders estimate that only 27 to 30 percent of the Corps’ aviation fleet will be at “ready to go to war” status seven years from now, according to Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, deputy commandant for aviation.
The federal cost-cutting measure reduces flight hours by roughly 10 percent every year. Today, aviation combat readiness stands at about 65 percent, Schmidle told a House Armed Services subcommittee. By 2017, that figure will be below 50 percent, he predicted.
“When we take the flight hours out, we don’t have the hours to fly the airplanes to train the pilots and the readiness continues to go down,” the three-star said.
Schmidle said the Marine Corps’ estimates were based on “strict arithmetic.”
“We took the readiness of the fleet today and we said, if we are sequestered that means we will lose 10 percent a year of our flight time. So if you lose 10 percent of your flight hours across the board every year, what happens in five, six, seven, eight years?” he told Marine Corps Times after the hearing. “You’ve got that many fewer flight hours to fly in order to be able to train the pilots and train the air crews, etc.”
However, “that assumes that the fleet is the same size it is today,” Schmidle said. “It’s assuming that we have to take those hours out of everybody, but if we get relief, and we get extra money for flight hours then, of course, we can begin alleviate that.”
If the service does manage to get some kind of relief from the sequester, “then you would not see those numbers go down,” Schmidle said.