November 13, 2017

Military aviation leaders discuss readiness, urge budget certainty

Lisa Ferdinando
DOD News

A Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet departs after receiving fuel from an Air Force 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during a mission over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Oct. 14, 2017. The F/A-18E is capable across the full mission spectrum: air superiority, fighter escort, reconnaissance, aerial refueling, close air support, air defense suppression and precision strikes.

Top aviation military officials from the four services addressed Congress today on aviation readiness, all underscoring the urgent need for predictable budgets.

Army Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and of Fort Rucker, Alabama; Lt. Gen. Mark C. Nowland, Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations; Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, Marine Corps deputy commandant for aviation; and Navy Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander of Naval Air Forces, spoke on aviation readiness at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness subcommittee.

“Every hour of every day, airmen support homeland defense, deter aggression from abroad and provide a robust and reliable nuclear deterrent,” Nowland said. 

However, the Air Force is quickly approaching an inflection point, he said, noting that 26 years of continuous operations have taken a toll on the force and adversaries are beginning to close the technological gap. The president’s budget for fiscal year 2018, he added, lays the foundation to restore readiness and increase joint lethality. 

“But most importantly an approved budget with stable, predictable funding levels will build the bridge to the future,” he said. “Continuing resolutions and a return to the Budget Control Act measures reverse all the progress we’ve made to this point.”

Gayler said Army Aviation has provided an “unparalleled advantage” to the nation as a fundamental element of the joint force. “There’s no doubt that aviation will remain an essential element of any combat in the future,” he said.

Army Aviation units and soldiers have been tested routinely in a variety of harsh operational environments over the past 16 years and through it all, have performed magnificently, Gayler said.

“However,” he added, “force structure reductions, increased global requirements, funding uncertainty and the requirement to train our forces to a higher level of preparedness raise concerns about the overall future readiness of Army Aviation.” 

Challenges in Naval Air
Consistent, predictable funding is “absolutely required” to improve readiness and quality of service in naval aviation, Shoemaker said. “Then we must buy back the readiness we’ve lost from years of resource-constrained budgets.” 

To illustrate the challenges, he discussed the deployments of West Coast-based aircraft carriers.

“We are meeting the combatant commanders’ requirement for ready, lethal carriers and air wings forward, but at a tremendous cost to the readiness of our forces at home,” he said.

He described a “shell game” in moving various jets to equip the USS Carl Vinson, USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt for their deployments this year. Once those jets are moved, non-deployed squadrons are left without an adequate number of assets to keep the aviators proficient and progressing toward career qualifications, he explained.

That has detrimental impacts on retention and experience levels, he said. In addition, parts had to be cannibalized from other jets, and hundreds of sailors had to be temporarily reassigned or have their sea duty extended.

Nation’s expeditionary force in readiness
Marine aviation readiness is improving, but fragile, Rudder saidThe readiness recovery of the Marine Corps lies in modernization and repair, he told the panel. He reiterated the need for consistent funding, and he highlighted the work of the men and women of the force who serve around the globe.

“The Marine Corps continues to be the nation’s expeditionary force in readiness, and Marine Aviation is prepared to surge and fight wherever you ask them to,” Rudder said.

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