Air Boss: USMC Aviation ‘on the Right Path,’ but Concerns Remain
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
The Marine Corps’ intense drive to recover from a dangerously low state of aviation readiness is showing progress, with significant gains in flyable aircraft in the CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopter fleet, which had the worst readiness rates, and the aged AV-8B Harriers, the Corps’ top aviator said in a farewell letter July 10.
The improvements are spreading across most of the aviation component through a combination of improved maintenance, efforts to rebuild and retain a cadre of trained and experienced maintainers and a recapitalization program that has provided nearly the full requirement of modern rotary wing and tiltrotor aircraft and is beginning to replace the over-used F/A-18 Hornets with fifth generation F-35Bs, Lt. Gen. Jon “Dog” Davis said.
“I do know that we are on the right path to a fully ready Marine Aviation component,” Davis said in a letter released as he retired as deputy commandant for Aviation after 37 years of Marine Corps service.
But Davis expressed concerns about the challenges to creating and retaining the right numbers and ranks of enlisted maintenance personnel and qualified aviators.
Davis said he has learned in his three years as air boss “that it is imperative to have high-quality, highly trained, motivated and incentivized Marines in the right qualification density to meet and exceed our readiness requirements.”
He noted that the six independent readiness reviews (IRRs) conducted to find the causes and cures for the readiness crisis revealed that the Corps had failed to keep enough maintainers with the right skills and experience levels. To address that, they began tracking specific military occupational specialties and offered retention bonuses to “Marines with critical maintenance qualifications.”
But he warned that retaining trained pilots “is going to be a big issue for us,” particularly with the airlines’ growing demand for pilots and the punishing operating tempo the Corps has experienced since 9/11.
“We are actively fixing readiness, and that will help with retention,” he said.
Davis said they are “currently on track with our Super Stallion readiness recovery reset,” with 21 CH-53Es put into organizational-level maintenance. The six that were reset and returned to operations are maintaining the highest readiness rates in the 53E fleet. The reset program will extend the viability of the Super Stallions until they are replaced by the CH-53K, which is moving into operational testing.
Focused efforts since completing the IRR on the Harriers have resulted in a 26 percent increase in pilot hours and a 23 percent gain in squadron ready aircraft, he said. The IRR on the Hornets has not been completed, but Davis revised the fielding plans for the F-35B Lightning IIs to replace Hornets, most of which have passed their expected service life, before the Harriers.
Davis said the IRR on the tiltrotor MV-22s revealed there are 77 different configurations among the Ospreys, due to changes made as different lots of aircraft came off the production lines. They have developed a plan to convert all the Ospreys to a common configuration as the go through depot maintenance, which will simplify maintenance and support.
“The Osprey is our most in-demand aircraft,” he said.
Davis put considerable emphasis on continuing the aviation recapitalization plan, which has replaced the legacy UH-1N and AH-1W helicopters with new UH-1Y and AH-1Z birds, and has provided F-35Bs for two operational squadrons, a training squadron and VMX-1, the aviation test and development squadron.
He also cited fielding on the Intrepid Tiger II next generation electronic warfare systems, the first deployment of the RQ-21 Blackjack unmanned air system and plans for a large, Group 5 UAS under the MUX program.
Davis said he has complete confidence that his replacement, Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller will keep the readiness recovery effort on track.