Military budget cuts have put America’s defense and her well being in harm’s way.
In an editorial “Readiness at risk” March 18, we quoted Gen. John Paxton, assistant Marine Corps Commandant telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that components of the Corps might be unable to respond to an unexpected crisis because of budget cuts.
Friday, Fox News said the majority of Marne Corps aircraft can’t fly. Reasons given by dozens of Marines at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., and at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., are the toll of long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the fight against ISIS and budget cuts precluding the purchase of parts needed to fix an aging fleet.
The report said out of 276 F/A-18 Hornet strike fighters in the Marine Corps inventory, only 30% are ready to fly and out of 147 heavy-lift CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters only 42 can fly.
While a budget agreement last year ended sequestration, finding the money to rebuild the Marines’ infrastructure is a challenge. Military spending was cut $131 million between 2010 and 2015, from $691 million to $560 million, as planes were returning from 15 years of war, said the story, “suffering from overuse and extreme wear and tear.” And many highly trained aviation mechanics left the Corps for jobs in the private sector.
Lack of funds have forced Marines to go outside the normal supply chain to get desperately needed parts. Cannibalization, taking parts from one multi-million dollar aircraft to get other multi-million aircraft airborne, is the norm.
As an example, to get one Hornet flying again, Marines at Beaufort stripped a landing gear door off a mothballed museum jet. “The door, found on the flight deck of the World War II era USS Yorktown, was last manufactured over a decade ago.
“We are an operational squadron. We are supposed to be flying jets, not building them,” said Lt. Col. Harry Thomas, commanding officer of VMFA-312, a Marine Corps F/A-18 squadron based at Beaufort.
Saying he deployed to the Pacific with 10 jets last year, he said only seven made it. A fuel leak in his F/A-18 caused a fire over Guam, but he landed safely, saving taxpayers $29 million.
Having deployed eight times, six tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said right now only two of his 14 Hornets can fly. And his squadron is due to deploy in three months.
Sometimes it takes 18 months to get parts for early model F-18 jets whose production was halted in 2001.
Because of the aircraft shortage, Lt. Col. Thomas said the average flight time for pilots over the last month was only four hours. Ten years ago pilots averaged 25-30 hours each month.
With a shelf life of 6,000 hours, F/A-18 Hornets are being rebuilt to extend their life to 8,000 hours. That might be extended to 10,000 hours because the Marine Corps is waiting on the Joint Strike Fighter, the problem-plagued F-35, which is supposed to replace the F-18.
Telling the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that approximately 80% of Marine aviation units don’t have the number of aircraft they need for training and operations, Gen. Paxton said a number of accidents involving Marine Corp aircraft may be connected to budget cuts which have forced non-deploying units to spend less time in the air and made training more dangerous.
Stretching the Marine Corps to the breaking point bodes ill for the Corps and for America. Congress must correct this because the president won’t.