Marine Corps aviation, struggling to meet its operational and training missions with a shrinking fleet of aged F/A-18 Hornets, is pushing a program to recover and update 30 out-of-service F/A-18Cs in an effort to remain combat ready until the new F-35B is fielded in numbers. That reported by usni.org.
The Marines have contracted with Boeing to refurbish and modernize the single-seat Hornets to a “C-plus” standard with new avionics and an updated AN/APG-65 radar. The Boeing work also will extend the service life of the fighters from 6,000 hours to 8,000 hours.
Twenty-three of the Hornets to be updated are being recovered from the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration facility, commonly known as the “boneyard,” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. Most are F/A-18Cs that have not reached their original flight hour limits. The other seven Hornets are being transferred from the Navy, which is replacing its legacy Hornets with the new and more capable Super Hornets, Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns told USNI News.
“We are very focused on our current readiness, and at the moment we don’t have enough Hornets for combat, flight instruction and day-to-day training,” Burns said in an email.
“We purposely housed the aircraft in the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group over the course of a decade with the intent to store, maintain and upgrade them for today’s use. This is one of the many levers the Navy-Marine Corps team is using to address USMC F/A-18 flight line short fall and readiness issues.”
Boeing has refurbished two of a planned 23 F/A Hornets stored at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson – known as “the boneyard” – and will soon finish more, according to WarIsBoring.com. The planes will be modified to a current “C+” standard under a contract with Boeing and the USMC signed in 2014.
It’s not the first time the military has brought back decommissioned planes from the graveyard. The Marines pulled and restored several retired heavy-lift helicopters during the height of the Iraq War to help with a shortfall in the fleet as a result of heavy usage and crashes.
The F-35 was supposed to be ready for front-line service in 2006. The Marine Corps reasoned that the Super Hornets were too pricey to serve as a bridge to the new planes, and chose to continue to operate their current fleets.
As the F/A Hornets dwindled through attrition, and quality-control issues delayed the F-35 from coming off the assembly, the Corps was caught short.
Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the USMC deputy commandant for aviation, told Senate lawmakers that just 32 percent of the Corps’ Hornet fighters were operational. The branch needs at least 58 percent of the F/A-18s to be flight ready so that there are enough planes for combat, flight instruction and day-to-day training.
Officials for the USMC did not immediately return requests for comment but in their most recent annual report on aviation capabilities, Davis said, “I am concerned with our current readiness rates, both in equipment and personnel.”
Some experts say bringing back the F/A-18 jets may not be much of an issue.