Just a third of the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornets were fully mission-capable and ready to “fight tonight” as of October, the head of Naval Air Forces told Congress on Friday.

Only half of the service’s 542 Super Hornets were flyable as of last month, Vice Adm. Troy Shoemaker told the House Subcommittee on Readiness at a hearing on aviation readiness.

The relentless pace of operations since 9/11, coupled with budget uncertainty in recent years, has forced the Navy’s aircraft and warship communities to do more with less, affecting overall readiness as a result, according to a copy of Shoemaker’s prepared statement to lawmakers.

Additional funding in FY2017 helped address immediate readiness shortfalls, Shoemaker said, but more will be needed as the service grapples with everything from an ascendant Chinese military to a belligerent North Korea and an Iranian force prone to incitement.

“Naval Aviation needs a multifaceted approach to readiness recovery that include aircraft procurement, consistent funding of readiness accounts and (military construction) and infrastructure investments,” Shoemaker said.

The Navy deployed four carrier strike groups this year to support combat operations and provide deterrence, he said.

Shortcomings meant the Navy had to “cannibalize aircraft, parts and people to ensure those leaving on deployment had what they needed to be safe and effective,” Shoemaker said.

“The demand for Naval Aviation forces greatly exceeds our ability to supply those forces,” he said.

There are 41 fewer ships and 90,000 fewer sailors in the service since 9/11, Shoemaker said, but the missions have only increased.

“We will always answer the bell to put combat ready forces forward,” he said. “However, we have been forced to do so for years at the expense of our long-term ability to train and prepare the future force.”

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at geoffz@militarytimes.com.

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