After more than a year of talk from Navy and Marine Corps aviation leaders about needing to fund “aviation enablers” to boost readiness, the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request shows exactly the investments that are needed to get more planes ready to fly.
A number of conditions have led to naval aviators having a shortfall of ready-to-fly aircraft – everything from a backlog at maintenance depots, to not enough contractor support, to a lack of spare parts – and no amount of investment in flying hours accounts will help the aviation readiness issue unless these enabler accounts are properly funded as well, leaders have said. Some of these enablers are seeing historic levels of funding in the 2018 request, a sign of the seriousness of the Navy and Marine Corps’ effort to dig out of this readiness hole.
Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis has said many times that the service couldn’t reduce its “not mission capable- supply” rates – when aircraft cannot be fixed due to lack of spare parts, which at times has reached a quarter of the fleet for older airplanes like the AV-8B Harrier – if it didn’t increase spending on spares. This spring he told lawmakers that the lack of spares was “the number-one readiness degrader” aside from the sheer age of some of the aircraft.
In the 2018 request, “the Marine Corps has increased funding for spares to $606 million – 93 percent of the total Marine Corps requirement,” Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns told USNI News this week.
“Increased funding for spare parts will not impact readiness for 18 to 24 months,” she added, but without this investment the readiness trajectory would never change.
For the Department of the Navy as a whole, spares are funded at 91 percent of the requirement, which is a 14-year high.
For comparison, in March Davis testified to lawmakers and said that the 2017 budget request only funded spares at two-thirds of the service’s need, though the supplemental spending request that the administration released earlier that month would have boosted spares funding.
“We’re funded at about 67 percent of our spares requirements in ’17. Some of that additional money in ’17 (in the supplemental request) would go to get us up to the max executable amount of spare parts, certainly for the Marine Corps, 88 percent – as much money as I can spend in ’17 – to go get those spare parts,” he said. At the time he wouldn’t talk about the upcoming 2018 request, but he said “I think you’ll see a very different profile from the United States Marine Corps as far as what we’re doing for our enabler accounts.”
Outside of the day-in, day-out maintenance that takes place at the squadrons, some types of aircraft make use of performance-based logistics contracts with industry and others’ readiness is the responsibility of the military. Both strategies are addressed through increased funding in the 2018 request.
For aircraft types with PBL contracts with industry – the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, KC-130J Hercules and MV-22 Osprey among them – the Navy and Marine Corps made a historic investment: $826.6 million for the aviation logistics account, compared to about $661 million in 2017.
“The aviation logistics support has increased six percent to a high of 87 percent of the requirement. These logistics contracts for the F-35, KC-130, MV-22 and E-6B are funded at an all-time high, and we anticipate future growth as more F-35s enter the fleet,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Budget Rear Adm. Brian Luther told reporters during a May 23 budget briefing.
Other types of aircraft are kept ready through Navy- and Marine Corps-led maintenance efforts at Fleet Readiness Centers, with the services responsible for their own engineering, logistics and supplies associated with repairs and overhauls. For those aircraft, more money is on the way too.
“Aircraft depot maintenance is funded to capacity, which is 89 percent of the requirement. This is an increase from last year where we funded the air depot maintenance to 85 percent.,” Luther said in his briefing.
“Capacity is limited for different reasons at our fleet readiness centers. Some are limited by the hiring of civilian personnel, others by physical space and aging tools and materials. In all cases, we are investing to correct these limitations.
“Aviation support, primarily program-related engineering and logistics, is funded higher than ’17, but not to a hundred percent.,” Luther added.
“This account also funds critical chain initiatives to improve depot throughput and increase hiring of planning, engineering and maintenance support manpower to align the workforce to the projected workload.”
As a result of the additional aviation enabler spending, the services should be able to fly more.
“The FY ‘18 budget calls for $8.6 billion for flying hour operations for Navy and Marine Corps aircraft, compared with $7.5 billion in FY ‘17. This increase equates to more than 100,000 flight hours across all models,” Burns told USNI News.
Overall, the Navy and Marine Corps requested $11.1 billion for air operations, compared to $9.9 billion in 2017.