Neller: 'Roger that' to Mattis' goal to improve aviation readiness
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Marine Corps is facing multiple obstacles as it works to improve readiness of its struggling aviation force to the level that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has demanded, according to the commandant.
Gen. Robert Neller, speaking to reporters Wednesday, said that aviation “has been the most problematic area” of the overall readiness of the force.
In a Sept. 17 memo to the secretaries of each military branch, Mattis ordered the Air Force and Navy to bring up mission capability rates for the F-35, F-22, F-16 and F-18 to 80 percent within a year, according to Defense News.
In fiscal year 2017, the Marine Corps had “a horrible year for aviation readiness,” Neller said. He pointed to the Marine Corps KC-130T crash in Mississippi in July 2017 that killed 15 Marines and a Navy corpsman as an example.
“But we’re still struggling with getting to the readiness level that we want, and now Secretary Mattis has raised the bar up to 80 percent. So, roger that,” he said.
Asked how the Marine Corps will overcome challenges to its tactical aviation readiness, Neller said that with the budget this fiscal year it is looking to reset some aviation programs, get rid of old aircraft and buy new ones, among other ideas.
“I mean at some point when you get new, you’ve got to get rid of the old ones. You can’t just keep them,” he said. “Because now you’ve got a squadron that’s designed to maintain 12 airplanes and they’ve got to maintain 16.”
He said that Mattis knows what he wants and has made it very clear about the 80 percent goal.
“So we’ll see how we do. And I’m sure if we don’t make it, we’ll hear about it.”