More than half of all Marine Corps fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft were unable to fly at the end of 2016, officials said on Wednesday.
The Marines are struggling to keep aging aircraft flying amid budget cuts, delayed spending bills and more than 15 years of wartime wear-and-tear.
Out of 1,065 Marine Corps aircraft, 439 were flyable as of Dec. 31, said Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for aviation. That represents roughly 41 percent of the service's fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.
"My target should be 589 [flyable aircraft]; so I am 150 airplanes shy of what I need to make my flight-hour goal," Davis told reporters on Wednesday. "In order to meet my operational commitments, I need a little bit more than that."
Since taking the job in June 2014, Davis has been working furiously to get enough Marine Corps planes and helicopters flyable until the service can receive new aircraft, such as the F-35.
While the number of aircraft ready to fly on any given day fluctuates, overall the number of flyable aircraft has been improving, Davis said.
But only 72 of the Marine Corps' 280 F/A-18 Hornets were flyable as of Dec. 31, officials said. This is just a quarter of the Corps' Hornets, and down from September, when 90 Hornets could fly.
Davis explained that readiness declined at the end of 2016 due to holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Marine Corps Birthday Ball.
"November and December every year are low productivity months," said Davis, who noted that 473 Marine aircraft were flyable at the beginning of October.
Of the Marine Corps' 280 F/A-18 Hornets, 109 were either at or headed to depot in December, Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns explained. Because the Navy runs the depots, those aircraft do not fall under the Marine Corps, she said. The service tracks the 171 Hornets that are under its direct control, of which about 42 percent are flyable.
"It should be noted that depot-level maintenance is deliberately planned and scheduled with few exceptions," Burns said in an email. "We expect and plan for a certain percentage of our aircraft to be in the depot at any given time. It is through depot-level maintenance that we ensure the Marine Corps maintains a ready and balanced fleet while we transition F-35."
In addition to the 72 Hornets that were flyable in December, another 26 needed repairs that were expected to be completed in less than 120 days, Burns said.
The Marine Corps can only repair so many aircraft at any given time, Davis said.
"I can't collapse that gap any faster than I am right now with the funding restrictions we've been under in the past," he said. "We are funded to the max. I can only reset a CH-53E so fast. I've got seven on the East Coast; eight on the West Coast and one in Hawaii — 16 airplanes in reset right now. I can only get so many of those into reset at any given time."