According to the US Navy, 53 percent of all Navy aircraft can’t fly — about 1,700 combat aircraft, patrol, and transport planes and helicopters. Not all are due to budget problems — at any given time, about one-fourth to one-third of aircraft are out of service for regular maintenance. But the 53 percent figure represents about twice the historic norm.
The strike fighter situation is even more acute and more remarkable since the aircraft are vitally important to projecting the fleet’s combat power. Sixty-two percent of F/A-18s are out of service; 27 percent in major depot work; and 35 percent simply awaiting maintenance or parts, the Navy said.
With training and flying hour funds cut, the Navy’s aircrews are struggling to maintain even minimum flying requirements, the senior Navy source said. Retention is becoming a problem, too. In 2013, 17 percent of flying officers declined department head tours after being selected. The percentage grew to 29 percent in 2016.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has laid out a measured and cautious spending plan that puts near-term readiness needs first in his first budget guidance memo. The memo, out this morning, largely defers major equipment modernization until 2019 and limits increases in the size of the force to “the maximum responsible rate” So, while Trump may yet launch a Reaganesque build-up of the military, the memo makes clear that it won’t start right away. It’s also explicit that, alongside straight additions to the budget, there will be “efficiencies” and cuts.
According to testimony, the Navy is the smallest and least prepared it’s been in 99 years.
The Navy has requested an additional $12 billion for 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters, one San Antonio-class amphibious landing dock ship, and dozens more Sidewinder missiles.
Gen. Daniel Allyn, the Army’s vice chief of staff, said that only three of the Army’s more than 50 brigade combat teams have all the troops, training and equipment needed to fight at a moment’s notice.
The Marine Corps, which wants an additional $4.2 billion added to its 2017 budget, warned that the “nation’s force in readiness” will have to continue shifting money intended for new weapons to pay current bills.
The Air Force is the branch of the military that arguably is in the most dire straits, with aircraft numbers falling from 8,600 in 1991 to 5,500 today. There are 55 fighter squadrons, down from 134, and less than 50 percent of its combat forces are “sufficiently ready for a highly contested fight against peer adversaries,” Air Force Vice Chief Gen. Stephen W. Wilson said in reference to countries like Russia and China.
Pro-defense lawmakers still want the build-up, but they acknowledge it’s going to take years, if not decades. For example, legislators have asked the Congressional Budget Office to study alternative spending plans to build a 355-ship Navy over 15, 20, 25, or 30 years, the new House seapower subcommittee chairman.