Marine aviation squadrons are suffering more than ground units after 15 years of war and deep budget cuts, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told lawmakers on Tuesday.
Readiness levels for ground units are "trending up," Neller said.
Aviation is "a little different story," due to the delays in the F-35 program, budget cuts and other issues, Neller said.
"Our aviation readiness is really my No. 1 concern," he said. "We don't have enough airplanes that we would call 'ready basic aircraft.' That means we're not getting enough flight hours."
The readiness issues that Marine Corps aviation units have been caused by a variety of factors, so there is no single solution, Neller told reporters after Tuesday's briefing.
Neller also stressed that the Marine Corps needs to get new aircraft, such as the MV-22B Osprey and F-35B.
An AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263 (Reinforced), 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), lands aboard the USS Bataan (LHD 5).
Photo Credit: Sgt. Austin Hazard, U.S. Marines
The Marine Corps declared in July that the F-35B had achieved initial operational capability. The fighters still require new software and other upgrades before being combat ready.
"We have one operational squadron that will deploy to Japan this January," Neller said at Tuesday's hearing. "We're going to form another squadron this year."
"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.
In addition to buying new aircraft, the Marine Corps needs to keep its fleet of older fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft flying, Neller told lawmakers. That means every type of Marine aircraft is being refurbished.
"Each of those aircraft are in different places," he said. "MV-22: Probably the furthest ahead. The CH-53: Just beginning the process. "
The Marine Corps also has to make sure that its aviators are getting enough flight hours so that they are not lured away by the private sector, Neller said.
The Navy is also facing challenges making sure that its pilots get all of the training and flight hours they need, Chief of Naval Operation Adm. John Richardson said.
An important aspect of readiness is making sure that sailors are able to go to the schools they need so they can join their units and be ready to deploy together, Richardson said at Tuesday's hearing.
"This is particularly true with our pilots, for instance, which are dependent upon flying hours, getting in that aircraft and doing the time they need at the high end to make sure that they deploy fully ready," he said.
Richardson said that readiness is an issue that both he and Neller are most concerned.
"Salty Dog 100," an F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., lands on USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77) Apr. 20, 2015.
Photo Credit: U.S. Navy.