Davis: Marine Corps Aviation Recovering from Readiness Shortfall
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — Marine Corps aviation forces are still “under water” with regard to readiness but recovering as the percentage of aircraft ready for flight steadily increases, said the Corps’ assistant commandant for aviation.
During a Feb. 8 roundtable with reporters at the Pentagon, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said the Corps is doing better now and that by 2019 readiness of aviation forces should be restored.
“That’s when we come out of the water,” he said.
Davis said the need for spare parts has been the main driver in aircraft being unavailable for flight.
“We still don’t have what we need,” he said, noting the parts shortage affects old and new aircraft alike.
Davis presented some metrics that showed the improving readiness. Of the Corp’s approximately 1,065 aircraft, only 378 were RBA — “ready base aircraft” in Marine Corps terminology, meaning ready to fly that day — in December 2014. Two years later, the RBA total was up to 439 aircraft. The target RBA is 589.
The Corps has 171 F/A-18 Hornet strike fighters in a reporting status — including in the fleet replacement training squadrons and reserve squadrons — but only 72 are RBA, below the service’s goal by about 20 aircraft.
Davis said the depot facilities brought 43 F/A-18s back into reporting status for the Corps, only one short of the goal for 2016.
Davis also addressed the spate of mishaps in 2016, saying that “we’re not seeing material problems with the mishap rate.” The lack of RBA aircraft is resulting in “unexecuted flight hours,” meaning “we’re flying safe airplanes; we’re not flying safe airplanes enough.”
The Marine Corps, and its aviation forces in particular, he said, have been “very deployed and very busy” since 9/11, and actually since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and that the Marine Corps flies the oldest jets in the Defense Department.
Davis praised the F-35 Lightning II strike fighter and noted that the first operational squadron, VMFA-121, has maintained high readiness metrics — between 70 and 90 percent — since it deployed to Japan last month.
“All those jets stayed up the entire time” during their transit to Japan via Alaska, he said.
“I’m very confident of the [F-35’s] ability to provide close air support,” he said, noting the aircraft’s radar’s capability to see through the clouds, along with the coming streaming video and the Small-Diameter Bomb II, of which the F-35B will carry eight when the Block 4.1 software is installed.
Davis also praised the MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, noting the high demand for it among combatant commanders, saying “we have flown the paint off that aircraft.”
Among the Marine Corps’ fleet of MV-22Bs and the Air Force’s fleet of CV-22Bs exist 77 different configurations, he said. Most of the differences are minor and affect the maintenance personnel rather than the flight crew. The cause was the fact that modifications were made as the aircraft came off the production line, Davis said.
A consequence of this situation is that the Corps has to frequently transfer Ospreys between squadrons to keep a common configuration within a deploying squadron. Davis said that between 2011 and 2016 Ospreys were transferred between squadrons a total of 650 times.
“A common configuration will alleviate the need to transfer airplanes,” he said, noting that “at the end of the day I’m going to be the one to approve transfers.”
The Corps is implementing the Common Configuration Reliability and Maintainability (CCRAM) initiative to bring about 130 Ospreys to the common configuration. The first two will be delivered this year and the goal is to modify 24 per year. One modification is a redesigned engine nacelle.
As part of the CCRAM effort, the Marine Corps will install an electro-optical/infrared sensor with a laser designator in the Osprey to replace the existing sensor. The new sensor is needed for the crew to see the landing zone from medium altitudes well in advance of arrival. The sensor also will need to be able to stream and share video with Global Positioning System-quality coordinates.
The sensor also will enable future weapons employment in the Osprey. Testing has been conducted with the Switchblade munition free-falling from an Osprey, which Davis said “worked phenomenally well.”
A competition between the sensor proposals of three companies will be held with a fly-off this spring at Yuma, Ariz. He declined to name the three companies.