Monday, September 23, 2013
The evolving USMC and USN Aviation Plan
On April 17 this year, the Armed Forces Committee of the House of Representatives had a hearing on the aviation plans of the services, with the following high-profile witnesses:
• Lieutenant General Charles R. Davis USAF
Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition
• Lieutenant General Burt Field
Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, Plans and Requirements, U.S. Air Force, USAF
• Rear Admiral Bill Moran USN
Director of the Air Warfare Division, U.S. Navy
• Lieutenant General Robert E. Schmidle USMC
Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation, U.S. Marine Corps
• Vice Admiral W. Mark Skinner USN
Principal Military Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research,
Development, and Acquisition), U.S. Navy
• Mr. Michael J. Sullivan
Director of Acquisition and Sourcing, U.S. Government Accountability Office
During the hearing, a juicy information was dropped about the future shape of the fighter/attack fleet of the US Marines Corps, which represents a very noticeable change from earlier plans daring back to the 2010 and 2011 aviation plans. The subject is, of course, the F-35. The US Marines continue to plan for a purchase of 420 aircraft, but the split between F35B and F35C has changed from 340 / 80 to 353 / 67, and the planned number of squadrons has changed very significantly.Let's see how the USMC aviation plan has evolved.
Up to the Memorandum of Understanding for the integration of tactical air fleet between US Navy and USMC, signed in March 2011 by the admiral Gary Roughead, the secretary for the Navy Ray Mabus and the commandant USMC James F. Amos, the USMC planned to operate a force of 420 F35B.
These were to entirely replace the "legacy force" composed by:
7 squadrons of F/A-18 Hornet A/C (12 aircraft per squadron)
5 squadrons of F/A-18 Hornet D (12 aircraft per squadron)
1 squadron of F/A-18 Hornet C (Reserve) (12 aircraft per squadron)
7 squadrons of AV-8B Harrier (14 aircraft per squadron)
1 Fleet Replacement Squadron of AV-8B and TAV-8B (28 aircraft)
1 Fleet Replacement Squadron of F/A-18 B/C/D (36 aircraft)
with a fleet of:
14 squadrons of F-35B (10 aircraft per squadron)
7 squadrons of F-35B (16 aircraft per squadron)
3 squadrons of F-35B (Reserve) (10 aircraft per squadron)
3 Fleet Replacement Squadrons of F-35B (20 aircraft each)
Following the signing of the MOU on TACAIR integration, the USMC split its planned buy of F-35s between the B and C variant, with the committment to provide five squadrons of F-35C to complement the 15 US Navy squadrons on the same aircraft, needed to equip all 10 Carrier Air Wings.
This represented an uplift in the CVN responsibility of the USMC, which has so far provided only three squadrons of F/A-18 B/C/D aircraft.
The immediate effect was a change in the number of 10-aircraft F-35B squadrons, which dropped from 14 to 9, as five squadrons were now planned to deploy 10 F-35C each instead.
The new USMC plan detailed in the April hearing is very different, and comes with a significant drop in the overall number of squadrons, probably due to the need to achieve significant savings in the budget.
The USMC now plans to have:
9 squadrons of F-35B (16-aircraft each)
5 squadrons of F-35B (10-aircraft each)
4 squadrons of F-35C (10-aircraft each)
2 squadrons of F-35B (Reserve) (10-aircraft each)
1 Operational Evaluation Squadron (6 F-35B)
2 Fleet Replacement Squadrons of F-35B (25 aircraft each)
10 F-35C provided for training alongside the USN's own training fleet, probably enabling the US Navy to stand up 16 instead of 15 F-35C squadrons, keeping the total of 20.
The remaining aircraft will be assigned in this way:
as Backup Aircraft Inventory
as Attrition Replacement Aircraft
The Backup Aircraft Inventory (BAI) is a reserve of airframes which are rotared into the frontline units to keep them up to strenght while aircrafts undergo scheduled and unscheduled depot-level maintenance, modifications, inspections and repairs.
The Attrition Reserve is an inventory of airframes used to replace unanticipated losses due to peacetime accidents or wartime attrition. The aircrafts can also be used to reconstitute combat units in the event of mobilization.
The new plan will of course have an impact on Basing plans, as well. When 21 regular squadrons were planned, they were expected to be spread in the following way:
10 squadrons (plus 1 Reserve Sqn) between MCAS Beaufort and MCAS Cherry Point
5 squadrons plus OEU Sqn in MCAS Yuma (one squadron would actually be stationed to Iwakuni, Japan)
6 squadrons in MCAS Miramar
Now it seems that both USMC F-35B training squadrons will be home-based in MCAS Beaufort, with the first, VMFAT-501 "Warlords" squadron, transferring from Eglin AFB in January 2014.
The bases will now be in competition to get a share of 18 (instead of 21) Active Component squadrons, and 2 instead of 3 Reserve Component formations.
The US Navy requirement remains set at 40 Active Duty frontline squadrons, with 440 aircraft, spread over 10 Carrier Air Wings.
In the long term, 20 squadrons will have the Super Hornet (12-aircraft per squadron) while 20 (in 2011 planned to be 15 USN + 5 USMC, now 16 + 4) will have the F-35C (10-aircraft per squadron), giving to the standard peacetime air wing a consistency of 44 strike fighter jets. Each carrier wing has two squadrons of F-35C, one squadron of F/A-18E single-seat Super Hornet and one squadron of F/A-18F twin seat.
Two Reserve squadrons (20-aircraft each) are planned, probably one for Super Hornet and one for F-35C.
There is a Fleet Replacement Squadron on each Coast, for both types. FRS have 30 aircraft each.
The transcript of the Hearing is available here.