Home » Aviation » Marines Taking 30 Hornets From Boneyard, Navy Inventory To Address Readiness Crisis

Marines Taking 30 Hornets From Boneyard, Navy Inventory To Address Readiness Crisis

A Marine inspects an F/A-18C Hornet from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323, Jan. 7, 2015. US Marine Corps photo.

A Marine inspects an F/A-18C Hornet from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323, Jan. 7, 2015. US Marine Corps photo.

Marine Corps aviation, struggling to meet its operational and training missions with a shrinking fleet of aged F/A-18 Hornets, is pushing a program to recover and update 30 out-of-service F/A-18Cs in an effort to remain combat ready until the new F-35B is fielded in numbers.

The Marines have contracted with Boeing to refurbish and modernize the single-seat Hornets to a “C-plus” standard with new avionics and an updated AN/APG-65 radar. The Boeing work also will extend the service life of the fighters from 6,000 hours to 8,000 hours.

Twenty-three of the Hornets to be updated are being recovered from the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration facility, commonly known as the “boneyard,” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. Most are F/A-18Cs that have not reached their original flight hour limits. The other seven Hornets are being transferred from the Navy, which is replacing its legacy Hornets with the new and more capable Super Hornets, Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns told USNI News.

“We are very focused on our current readiness, and at the moment we don’t have enough Hornets for combat, flight instruction and day-to-day training,” Burns said in an email.
“We purposely housed the aircraft in the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group over the course of a decade with the intent to store, maintain and upgrade them for today’s use. This is one of the many levers the Navy-Marine Corps team is using to address USMC F/A-18 flight line short fall and readiness issues.”

Despite that advance planning, the Marines’ current readiness crisis in its strike fighter force is the result of a series of unplanned occurrences.

When the Navy moved to replace its legacy F/A-18s with the Super Hornets, the Marines opted not to join in that program. Marine Corps leaders at the time were focused on replacing their entire tactical aircraft force of Hornets, AV-8B Harriers and EA-6B Prowlers with the F/A-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. The new fighter would give them a fifth-generation, stealthy, short-takeoff/vertical-landing (STOVL) aircraft to fully meet their expeditionary missions to operate from amphibious ships and from primitive airfield ashore.

But the tri-service F-35 program has fallen years behind schedule, forcing the Marines to keep their Hornets and Harriers in service long after most of them hit their expected service limits. Then the efforts to keep the legacy aircraft flying was hampered by cuts in defense budgets and a sharp reduction in Marine personnel, both of which affected maintenance by the operational squadrons.

The budget restrictions also reduced the aviation depots’ ability to do schedule major maintenance and to carry out the service life extension efforts to keep the old aircraft flyable.

As a result, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the assistant commandant for aviation, has testified that in order to provide combat-ready aircraft for deployments, virtually none of the fighter squadrons at home stations have anywhere near the aircraft they need to conduct training and to remain ready to deploy for an emergency.

The Marines declared their first F-35B squadron operationally capable last July and it is preparing for its first operational deployment next year. A second squadron could become operational early in 2017.

In the interim, the Marines are having low-hour F/A-18Cs taken from the Boneyard or from transitioning Navy squadrons and sent to a Boeing maintenance facility at the former NAS Cecil Field, Fla., for the updated avionics and structural work.

One updated C-plus Hornet has been delivered to Marine Fighter-Attack Squadron 115, and another has completed the Boeing work and is being verified for operational use, Burns said. Six aircraft are at the Boeing plant and five more are set for delivery. The upgrade works takes about a year, Boeing said.

  • NavySubNuke

    “Most are F/A-18Cs that have not reached their original flight hour limits.”
    This just makes me wonder why they were retired in the first place. I imagine – but have no actual idea if it is true or not – that it was built on the hopes and dreams of the JSF delivering somewhere close to on time. Instead it is over a decade late and horribly over budget.

    • Spencer Whitson

      Are you just throwing around various projects you dislike? What does the LCS have to do with Hornets being retired?

      • NavySubNuke

        Ha ha – oops. I meant JSF. Sorry – I got my failed defense projects confused. Fixed!

  • Jacek Zemło

    I wonder what it means “an updated AN/APG-65 radar” – wasn’t APG-73 the updated version of APG-65?

  • old guy

    I can’t decide whether this is clever logistics or desperate measures. Anybody REALLY know?

    • Pat Patterson

      Both, unfortunately!

      • old guy

        If this is an organized, well planned effort I can happily agree with it. However, I can’t get over the feeling that it is real panic in the field to keep the force flying.

  • Ed L

    A good move by the Marines. Maybe the Navy could bring a couple of dozen S-3 back into service. That would give more flexibility to a Carrier Air Wing. putting a detachment of 4 on board.

  • Refguy

    The article doesn’t say how long it will take to deliver the first refurbished airplane. My SWAG would be some time next year; if that’s correct, it implies that the the Marines expect the inventory shortfall to last a LOOONG time.

  • muzzleloader

    From induction to delivery to the squadron is about year. What is often the delay factor is parts shortages. What cannot be purchased or repaired requires remanufacturing. After these tired birds are disassembled often even more rework than planned for is discovered. In any event, rework of older combat aircraft is logistically challenging. The artisans at Boeing and FRC Jacksonville have their hands full.

  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    Lets get to the ROOT Cause of the problem…redundant Fixed Wing Air Forces!

    If the USAF is NOT going to take the lead & demand that they be the Single Point of Service for ALL Fixed Wing Assets, then what further need do we even have for the USAF?

    Trying to maintain “Three Distinct Fixed Wing Air Forces,’ is NOT cutting it, & will ONLY succeed in getting OUR people DEAD!

    Bigger Budgets for a military who CANNOT be fiscally responsible is a non-starter, so either Congress or the Pentagon, or both had better make the hard decisions, before some foreign country’e military makes it for us…

    • old guy

      Im not sure I understand your point, but if you are implying a common A/C I don’t agree. If you are for liming a design for a mission, well said. if other please explain.

      • Gen. Buck Turgidson

        Maybe something common like the 111 was

  • Don Bacon

    “The Marines declared their first F-35B squadron operationally capable last July.”
    They meant capable for air-shows, nothing more.

  • Mark Lawrence McRay

    Cool, I like the salvaging, hey this is survival, hey those planes are almost ready to fly with a good exercise of our tech workers who get major plus points. And yes we all know how easy it is to fire up an existing production line and costs will drop and we’ll get new planes. Let’s keep that in mind and crank out the F-35 in large numbers and take advantage of factory force lines. However since F35 isn’t really an air superiority fighter, this move is highly commended.

  • John B. Morgen

    The Navy Department was too rash of placing these F/A-18s into mothballs, now the Marine have to spend more funds in order to make these F/A-18s flyable once again.

  • akear

    So much for the marines saying the F-35 was combat ready. They made that announcement 6 months ago!!

    • tbenton62

      It is combat ready, not sure where you get it is not. That is not the issue, it is that they are having to retire old air-frames quicker then they are receiving new ones.

  • Gen. Buck Turgidson

    55percent trouble seems a little better then the 70 percent down a few months ago w helos also,,How are those “young women “pilots doing as to the latest pilot problems mentioned,,,sounds real dismal if it hits the fan,,,But hey the left wants that money for the projects and the Clinton museum