Hit with $131 billion worth of budget cuts and a force reduction of 30,000, the Marine Corps is being stretched to its limits, Fox News reported Thursday.
"After 15 years of hard service, hard fighting, and deploying around the world, we don’t have enough airplanes in the fly line to make sure that the Marines are ready to go," said Lt. Gen. Jon Davis.
Due to budget cuts and the departure of well-trained mechanics to the private sector, young Marines have had to work double-time, assuming the role of mechanic themselves.
"My Marines … are working 20 to 21 hours a day to get [the planes] ready to go on deployment," said Lt. Col. Matthew Brown, adding that he was worried about the safety risks associated with such a high workload.
"The likelihood of a ground mishap or them making a mistake late at night, and the pressure to perform, is really where I see the bigger safety risk," Brown said.
The cuts have also impacted fly time, slashing it almost four times.
"These last 30 days, our average flight time per pilot was just over four hours," said Lt. Col. Harry Thomas. The average flying time was once 15 hours per month–and building planes is not in the job description, he said.
"We’re an operational squadron, we’re supposed to be flying jets, not building them," Thomas said. One pilot told Fox News that Chinese and Russian pilots receive more fly time.
In addition, the planes that the Marines are fixing are themselves outdated and pushed to their breaking point after long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Faced with a delay to the fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter model meant to replace the years-old F/A-18 Hornet jet, the Marine Corps has had to make due with the F/A-18, cannibalizing parts for a plane that has not been produced since 2001.
Sgt. Argentry Uebelhoer described the restoration process as fruitless.
"Imagine taking like a 1995 Cadillac and trying to make it a Ferrari. You’re trying to make it faster, more efficient, but it’s still an old airframe so the aircraft is constantly breaking," Sgt. Uebelhoer said.
On some occasions, the Marines have had to wait 18 months to replace parts for the F-18, and, despite being restored, are still being used 2,000 hours past expiration.
"It’s very, very old to be flying for an aircraft," said Maj. Michael Malone. "These aircraft were designed to fly for 6,000 hours."
Lt. Col. Brown lamented the sacrifice he was asking for from his Marines, considering the safety risks they faced, from exhaustion to outdated planes.
"You can look a young Marine in the eye and at some point say, ‘Hey, I want you to do one more for America and apple pie,’ and at some point you know, that gets old," Brown said.
Brown’s squadron will deploy to the Middle East within days.