Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation, testified before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower on Wednesday. He detailed the effect across-the-board spending cuts have had on Marine aviation, alongside to Navy admirals.
"We do a great job getting the guys out the door with assets and training, but it's training the next group that's ready to go," that's a challenge, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation, said. "One of the prime reasons we have a hard time with that right now is because we have 19 percent of our flight-line inventory that we should have up in operation that's not available to fly."
The shortfall spans across aircraft in the fleet, and it is largely caused by a backlog of aircraft stuck in depots for extensive work and overhauls. The problems date back to the 2013 defense budget cuts.
"This is one of the, frankly, one of the complications that we warned Congress about when we were talking about sequestration several years ago, was particularly our depot throughput and the implications, and the fact that it would take us several years to recover," said Vice Adm. Paul Grosklags, the principal military deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisitions.
Davis said the problem in the Corps is most prevalent with F/A-18 Hornets, but also impacts CH-53E Super ea Stallions, AV-8B Harriers, MV-22B Ospreys, and H-1 Hueys.
Across the Navy and Marine Corps, the strike-fighter shortfall could reach as high as 134 aircraft. The gap is caused by a service life extension program that has caused a backlog of Hornets in short-staffed maintenance depots, Grosklags said.
Legacy Hornets were brought into depots to extend their service life from 6,000 flight hours to as long as 10,000 in order to keep them operational until the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter entered the fleet. The Hornets were only designed to last to 6,000 hours, and when engineers opened up the airframe to extend their service life, they found unexpected levels of corrosion that required extensive work.
Besides the additional work in depots, sequestration left depots understaffed, Grosklags said. Depots should have 6,800 artisans and engineers, but the workforce is short 700 artisans, with the most acute gap in the Hornet community.
"Until we get through that hiring process, we can only execute so many aircraft at a time," he said.
Sequestration also made it tough to buy spare parts for aircraft, so even aircraft that are in the fleet sometimes can't fly, Davis said.
"So if I've got an airplane on the line that's not in depot, but it can't be flown because i don't have the parts to put in there, that impacts our ability to generate readiness as well," he said.