U.S. Marine Corps Faces F-35 Pilot, Maintainer Shortage

Credit: USAF

Even with the adverse impacts of the novel coronavirus on the airline industry, the U.S. Marine Corps is still losing the competition for pilots and maintainers.

The service is not keeping a sufficient number of both F-35 pilots and maintainers for the existing number of aircraft. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger is troubled about what will happen in the future when the service accepts more F-35s, he said in testimony submitted April 29 to the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

“I am concerned that if we do not remedy these shortfalls in the very near future, we may be in a situation in which we are directed by Congress to procure aircraft for which we have insufficient pilots and maintainers,” Berger said.

In the Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030, the document outlines the need for 18 fighter attack squadrons. The current school of thought is to have 10 jets in each squadron, but the Marine Corps is reassessing and may increase the number of aircraft to 11 or 12, Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, deputy commandant for combat development and integration, told reporters.

Separately, House Armed Services Committee Democrats are threatening to not support inserting additional F-35s over the base budget request in fiscal 2022 for different reasons. These lawmakers are concerned about cost overruns and a large backlog the program is facing at depots.

“If this program continues to fail to significantly control and reduce actual projected sustainment costs, we may need to invest in other, more affordable programs and backfill an operational shortfall of potentially over 800 tactical fighters,” House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee Chairman Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) said April 22 during a hearing on the F-35 program.

The Pentagon is facing a considerable backlog of F135 engine depot work, and as of April 8, 20 Air Force F-35s were grounded without a serviceable engine, according to the service.

House Armed Services readiness subcommittee Chairman John Garamendi (D-Calif.) believes the previous years’ F-35 quantity increases exacerbated the program’s maintenance problem.

“If anybody suggests a plus-up there will be one hell of a fight, and I don’t propose to lose it,” Garamendi said.