The following is the July 10 letter to the Marine Corps from Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for aviation, upon retiring from the Marine Corps after 37 years of service.
After 37 years of service, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on where we are and where I think we are headed with Marine Aviation by focusing on my three priorities: readiness, recapitalization and people.
Readiness – In 2014, we were experiencing an enterprise-wide decrease in readiness. Our immediate goal was to conduct a root cause analysis to identify the causes of this degradation. We chose to conduct a series of Independent Readiness Reviews (IRR) which are comprehensive examinations of all factors that impact both aircraft and personnel readiness. We have completed five IRRs to date on the AV-8B, CH- 53E, MV-22, H-1 and ground safety and are in the midst of the sixth IRR which is for the F/A-18. These reviews have been instrumental in the design of our readiness recovery strategy.
A key finding common to all of these reviews emphasized the importance of retaining highly qualified enlisted maintainers – trained properly and provided to the fleet in the correct density. Each report discovered a lack of Marines possessing the requisite skills our ready force demands, causing us to reestablish and increase our benchmarks. This is less an issue of individual capability and is more strictly related to density of personnel. Fixing the problem requires both tracking the qualifications and retention of these enlisted maintenance leaders. In order to facilitate change, we have added specific military occupational specialties to our official manpower tracking databases and offered a retention bonus to Marines with critical maintenance qualifications.
We are currently on track with our Super Stallion readiness recovery reset. We have inducted 21 CH- 53Es into the organizational-level maintenance process so far, and six of those aircraft have been reset and returned to the fleet. By the end of this calendar year we will have completed 17 reset aircraft. To date, we have flown approximately 800 hours on the reset aircraft and they are maintain the highest readiness rates in the CH-53Es fleet. This reset process is breathing new life and reliability into the 53E fleet, extending the viability of our heavy lift fleet until the 53K arrives. We anticipate CH-53E Super Stallions to be reset in the next three to four years.
Efforts from the past two years have put the Marine Corps’ AV-8B Harrier fleet in a much better place, and they are flying more. Since the completing the IRR, we have seen a 26% increase in pilot hours per month, and a 23% increase in squadron Ready Basic Aircraft. From the outcome of the V-22 IRR, we found that we needed to have one configuration of the Osprey. Right now we have about 77. We have a plan laid out to tackle that issue along with others to maintain a strong and successful life for our Osprey fleet. The Osprey is our most in-demand aircraft as it continues to transform the way the Marine Corps conducts assault support, support to a variety of MAGTF missions, and humanitarian relief operations.
Recapitalization – At this point we are a more than one-third complete with the transition of every tactical platform in our inventory. Our plan recapitalizes current squadrons with transformational technologies – 5th generation STOVL strike fighters, tiltrotor technology, advanced heavy lift helicopters, and modernized amphibious based Group 3 and Group 5 Unmanned Aircraft Systems (MUX). In 2015, we declared the F-35B Lightning II operational and now we have four squadrons – Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), VMFA-211, VMFAT-501 and VMX-1. VMFA-121 is now permanently stationed in Japan. In 2016, we executed our first RQ-21 deployment in support of a Marine Expeditionary Unit. We also fired our first APKWS laser-guided rocket off our Harriers both in Libya and Operation Inherent Resolve, and we continue to bring air power to the fight in the Middle East. We have continued to experiment with and field our next generation electronic warfare (EW) asset, the Intrepid Tiger II, which will ultimately provide tailored EW capability to all of our airborne platforms.
We will also continue to develop the V-22 Aerial Refueling system, providing the capability to deliver fuel to other aircraft, both in the air and on the ground. We have validated a sea-based Group 5 UAS requirement, which will lead to the development of a sea-based multi-mission UAS. And lastly, the CH- 53K program remains on track. Just over the past Fourth of July holiday, we hit another milestone for the program. The CH-53K Engineering Development Model (EDM) 4 departed the West Palm Beach, FL, test facility and arrived at Pax River, MD. This movement is in support of the test plan for CH-53K and demonstrated our outright confidence in the platform.
It is important to note that Marine Aviation is essential element in the Nation’s Force in Readiness. To accomplish that mission in the future threat environment we are procuring a force with a 4th gen / 5th gen mix of our level effort attack platform, the AH-1Z and UH-1Y, and the F-35B (STOVL) and F-35C (Carrier) aircraft. USMC bought 380+ 4th generation level of effort aircraft for our low end fight. They are AH and UH-1s. And our 5th gen jet can be quickly configured to a 4th gen bomb truck… The last thing the USMC needs is another 4th gen aircraft program — especially one that can’t be based on an amphib, a CVL like QE, or short expeditionary strips ashore. Predicting the future is always difficult- even the smartest of the smart guys get it wrong. We have no idea where we will be fighting or against who in 2025. The USMC has to be ready for the toughest fight. The real question ought to be — why are we building any more 4th gen birds? What we buy in 2025 will be with us for 30-40 years – 4th gen Hornets in 2055-2065? The smarter move is to build 5th gen now.
People – We’re always in a quest for better readiness. I would say it’s not just the quest for materiel readiness; it is the pursuit of personnel readiness of our enlisted maintainers. I’ve learned as the Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation that it is the imperative to have high-quality, highly trained, motivated and incentivized Marines in the right qualification density to meet and exceed our readiness requirements. We need to look out for our people, and in turn, we will see their efforts, our group efforts, reflect in our achievements. In the future, I believe manpower retention is going to be a big issue for us. It takes a long time to build flight leads and instructors. I think the supply and demand signal from other employers is going to continue to be alluring to our Marines if operational tempo stays high. We are actively fixing the readiness, and that will help with retention. But, as Marines, we all need to be supportive of each other in order to keep our people in the cockpit, keep our training base strong and cultivate experience across our Corps.
I do know we are on the right path to a fully ready Marine Aviation component. I have full faith that LtGen Steve Rudder is the perfect person to replace me in this position. He is a very talented leader with extreme focus. I also know that we have exactly the right Commandant to put this all together to recover our readiness and keep it on track. So while we are a little shy of the finish line, we will get to the finish line. We cannot get to the finish line without the hard work and dedication from each and every Marine and Sailor who continue to work tirelessly to keep our aircraft safe and flying and their families who continue to show love and support when it is needed most. My sincerest gratitude goes out to you.
Thank you to all those I’ve had the pleasure of serving with and for. Semper Fidelis.