Marine Air Needs FY18 Budget To Recover From ‘Horrible Year’: Commandant

Marine F-18 Hornet undergoing maintenance CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Marine Corps aviation is recovering from “a horrible year” of “horrific” accidents that killed 20 Marines , the Commandant said here yesterday. But, Gen. Robert Neller said, that progress is at risk unless Congress — which just passed a short-term spending bill to end the government shutdown — can actually enact a full-year budget to fund repairs, spare parts, new planes, and training. General Robert Neller Things are getting better, Neller said. Yes, there was a recent spate of “precautionary landings” in Okinawa, where, in three separate incidents, Marine helicopters set down urgently — one on private property , one on a beach — after malfunction lights went off. There was also a case when a window fell off a helicopter and landed near a playground , slightly injuring a child. The incidents outraged Okinawan leaders and prompted an apology from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis . But Neller looked on the bright side this morning: “I’m glad there were precautionary landings because nobody got hurt and we didn’t lose any airplanes” — in stark contrast to 2017.

“We had a horrible year last year,” Neller said bluntly. “We had twelve Class As” — aviation accidents involving loss of life and/or $2 million in damage — “and some of them were horrific. The majority of them they were not a result of the materiel condition of the airplane — and I’m just going to leave them at that. Flying is a high risk thing, but that doesn’t meant the people that were involved in this, that they were where we needed them to be as far as (flying) hours and (training) time.”

That’s getting better, Neller said. The Marine Corps-wide average has risen from a bit over 11 flying hours per pilot per month to “just under 16,” he said, but “we know we’ve got to get more hours…..We know we’ve got to fly more.”

What the Commandant is hinting at here: At least some of the Marine Corps pilots who went down last year just hadn’t gotten enough training, raising the risk of costly or even fatal mistakes. Does not include foreign personnel killed aboard US aircraft. Why were the pilots undertrained? Three mutually reinforcing factors, all of which Neller is trying to address but needs Congress’s help with:

> Mostly immediately, training has been disrupted or cut back as a direct result of budget dysfunction: Congress has consistently failed to pass proper spending bills on time, leading to short-term Continuing Resolutions that limit spending for the first weeks or months of the fiscal year.

Maintenance and spare parts to keep aircraft flight-worthy have also been disrupted and cut back. The fewer aircraft are working , the fewer are available to train, and the fewer hours pilots get. Last year, 74 percent of Marine Corps strike fighters were out of service for one reason or another at any given time (and 64 percent of the Navy’s).

The most fundamental problem is […]