Gen. John M. Paxton, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, speaks to Marines in Janurary aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. (Cpl. Tia Dufour / Marine Corps)
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Half of the Corps’ fixed-wing fighters are offline due to sequestration budget cuts, while 62 percent of non-deployed Marine Corps units are missing some kind of necessary equipment, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps told lawmakers on Wednesday.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services readiness and management support subcommittee, Gen. John Paxton said the Marines could have squadrons without a single aircraft or pilot ready to deploy if there is no reprieve from the 10-year, $500 billion raft of automatic spending cuts that began last year.
A worsening maintenance backlog for the Marines’ F/A-18D fighter, he said, is the most immediate impact for the Marines from the cuts. Of the 264 fighter aircraft in the Corps’ inventory, Paxton said in his prepared remarks, 132 are in Out of Reporting status, meaning they are in need of maintenance or parts.
Each squadron requires 12 aircraft available for minimum deployable combat readiness; but non-deployed squadrons now have only 6 aircraft available, Paxton said, as the Marine Corps works to clear a backlog of airframes and engines at maintenance depots.
“In essence, what it is, is a downward spiral,” Paxton said of the backlogs caused by budget shortfalls. Resolving the backlog, he said, “would take us months to do, it wouldn’t be days or weeks.”
And each passing month, he said, will affect the deployment cycles of Marine expeditionary units and other units that need to deploy with aircraft.
To sustain readiness through the transition to the new F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, Paxton said the Marine Corps needs continued funding support for aviation depots, and sustainment and upgrade initiatives for the F/A-18.
Paxton also expanded on reports that 50 percent of non-deployed Marine units are not at an acceptable state of readiness. According to his prepared remarks, 62 percent of stateside units have equipment shortfalls, and 33 percent are experiencing personnel shortfalls in order to fund deployed readiness.
Although this doesn’t indicate a precipitous drop-off in readiness, it is the beginning of a harmful trend, Paxton told Marine Corps Times following the hearing.
“We estimate, dollar and cents wise, that we’re about 5 or 6 percent less ready than we were last year,” he said. “... This is just the start of a spiral where will will see more units less ready, and it will take longer to get the units ready.”
Meanwhile, the Marine Corps anticipates a modest request for overseas contingency operations funding, Paxton said.
The cost to get remaining Marine Corps equipment out of Afghanistan will total about $1 billion, he said in prepared remarks, down from $3.2 billion last year. Nearly 80 percent of deployed equipment has now left Afghanistan, he said, and without further cutbacks, the Marine Corps should have its equipment reset completed by 2017.