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Aviation officials: Competing priorities complicate efforts to address readiness crisis

By Published: November 9, 2017

By Claudia Grisales

Stars and Stripes

WASHINGTON – A panel of senior military aviators told lawmakers Thursday that while progress has been made in readiness efforts, competing priorities are getting in the way.

The officials spoke during a hearing for a subpanel for the House Armed Services Committee, which was revisiting readiness concerns a year after they were raised.

A year ago, top aviation officials for the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force met with the committee, which found crisis-level readiness issues, said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.

“Infrastructure challenges, underfunded spare parts and depot backlogs were a consistent theme,” Wilson said at Thursday’s hearing. With retention and training deficiencies, “all of these challenges are competing with no lessening of operational demand in the fight against terrorism and with increasingly aging and overused aircraft.”

A readiness crisis throughout the military has dominated recent debate on Capitol Hill. Some lawmakers say a spike in deadly accidents is being fueled by years of budget cuts.

On Wednesday, in light of the growing debate, a key panel of House and Senate members announced a deal on a $700 billion defense budget plan to boost pay raises for servicemembers, increase the size of the force, fund new ships and aircraft and authorize new spending on missile defense. But the plan faces a major hurdle, since it exceeds budget caps and will require congressional action to move forward.

On Thursday, senior military officials said they have seen gains in readiness, including improvement of flight hours for several of the branches. But plenty of work remains, they said.

“We have made moderate gains in readiness,” said Marine Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, deputy commandant for aviation. “But we’re not where we want to be.”

Some said Thursday that priorities are misplaced, hurting efforts to address questions of readiness.

Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., said Congress and others are not doing enough to support safety and readiness. For example, Carbajal questioned nuclear arsenal spending plans at a time when larger defense priorities remain ignored.

“We are not doing our part” to keep the military safe, he said. “Why spend $1.3 trillion to modernize a nuclear arsenal, yet we are not able to take care of the military? Are we really prioritizing readiness?”

Major Gen. William Gayler, commanding general for the Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, said they continue to juggle competing demands.

“It’s a balance,” he said.

grisales.claudia@stripes.com

Twitter: @cgrisales

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