Davis: Marines Making Aviation Readiness Headway
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps is making progress in fixing its chronic aviation readiness problems, but needs to do a better job in getting spare parts to the flight line and is working to provide the right skill levels in its enlisted aviation maintainers, the Corps’ top aviation leader said Feb. 1.
They also are working to reverse a “spike” in ground mishaps, the relatively minor accidents resulting from mistakes in moving aircraft or in maintenance, which can remove a plane from flight status for an average of 42 days, said Lt. Gen. Jon M. Davis, the deputy commandant for Aviation.
“That’s what I call negative maintenance. We’re fixing something we didn’t need to fix,” he told a defense writers breakfast.
The shortage of spare parts means the maintenance Marines must take parts off another aircraft.
“That’s called cannibalization. That’s draining our Marines’ ability to do the job,” he said. “They’re doing maintenance three times,” because they have to replace the cannibalized part later. “The No. 1 thing we can do to fix our readiness problem is put more spare parts on flight line.”
The Marines have been conducting readiness reviews of their different aircraft types, which emphasized the spare part problem but also identified a lack of enlisted maintenance personnel with the right experience and skills, particularly in supervisory roles.
Although there are enough Marines in aviation maintenance, “we did not have the density of Marines with the skill sets we need to make our readiness goals,” Davis said.
So a new occupational specialty code has been created that will allow service leaders to track and retain the specialists they need, and have started advanced training programs for maintenance supervisors.
“These are the very best Marines we’ve ever had. We need to give them the tools and the supervision they need to be successful on the line,” he said.
After completing four reviews and addressing the problems those revealed, “we’re doing bit better in readiness,” Davis said. “Last year, we predicted we would be up 45 airplanes” in flight ready status. “We made 44. This year we project we’ll have an additional 33, so we can stay on track for our readiness model.”
Overall, Davis said, “we’re on track to meet our basic aircraft readiness goal for 2019 in all our operational formations.”
But even with the concerted effort to get more flying hours from the legacy aircraft, Davis said the long-term solution to the readiness problem is buying more new aircraft.
“Some of our tactical air squadrons are the oldest in the Department of Defense. That old metal has to be retired,” he said. “Bottom line, we have to recapitalize.”
Davis said the Marine Corps’ role in the study Defense Secretary James N. Mattis ordered to compare an updated F/A-18 Super Hornet to the F-35 involved only the four squadrons of F-35Cs that will be bought to go into the Navy’s carrier air wings. The Marines are buying mostly the short-takeoff F-35Bs.
Without prejudging the results of the study, Davis said, “my sense is, we’ll probably validate the imperative to have a fifth-generation aircraft out there.”
Asked later what would be the effect of not buying F-35s, he said “there are scenarios where we just couldn’t go,” because the Super Hornets lack the Lightning II’s stealth and electronic warfare capabilities.
Davis said he does not know why the Marine MV-22 supporting the Navy SEAL raid in Yemen suffered a hard landing and had to be destroyed. But he insisted the Osprey does not have a problem with hard landings and noted that the accident caused only one slight injury of a Marine onboard, where helicopters’ hard landings usually cause more serious casualties.
The Osprey is “the safest assault support aircraft we’ve ever had,” he said.