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The reasons for this are varied. Long story short, resources are limited, and a disproportionate share are going to the fight against ISIS and other overseas operations. This means that for those not actually on deployment, there’s not much flying going on. Many pilots are getting fewer than 15 hours a month, and some are getting less than 10.
When I started flying in the Marine Corps two decades ago, pilots assigned to line units regularly got about 30 hours per month. That gradually dropped to 20. With 30 hours, one steadily improves. With 20, one is at least confident in fundamental skills. With 15 and below, one is just focusing on the bare essentials.
Once a pilot goes below about 15 hours, his skills start to atrophy. The fundamentals of flying, which need to come naturally, require conscious thought when a pilot hasn’t been in the air enough. So of those limited hours, many have to be spent just practicing takeoffs, landings, and instrument approaches. Every pilot is required to get prescribed numbers of these essential tasks at regular intervals. Those flights aren’t just administrative, they’re essential. Aviation is a dangerous business, even without bad guys shooting at you.
Other military jobs are dangerous in a combat zone. Military aviation is dangerous all the time. If you can’t bring the aircraft back home at night or bad weather, then the enemy doesn’t even have to work. Practicing the fundamentals is essential. But military pilots don’t just fly from point A to point B. They’re expected to do important and demanding tasks in-between, like picking up troops or dropping bombs. The bare minimum does not maintain adequate proficiency in those skills without compromising either mission accomplishment or safety.
Some may wonder whether the extra flight time these pilots get while deployed makes up for the deficit incurred stateside. It does to a small extent. Pilots often catch up a little on flight hours while deployed. Modern simulators also make up from some of the shortfall, but there’s a huge difference between playing a videogame of landing an aircraft in the dust and actually doing it. Just like in football, one can’t just just practice like a madman for a few months, then play Madden 17 for the rest of the year, and expect to complete at a high level.
And competing at a high level is, or will be, the problem. As much as President Obama was criticized for saying ISIS was the JV team, as far as aviation goes, it is. It has no real air force or integrated air defense system, which was also true of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of Iraqi insurgents. While the U.S. is blessed to have a large contingent of combat experienced aviators who at know what it’s like to see tracer rounds travelling the wrong direction, that experience has come at the price of not practicing for tougher foes and tougher mission sets.
While there have been many individual missions that have required exceptional skill and heroism, the bulk of combat aviation sorties since 9/11 have been missions such as “battlefield circulations” for assault aircraft, i.e. moving people and stuff from base to base. Other platforms have similar woes. Many a fighter pilot who thought he’d be dogfighting MiGs has instead found himself working as a JDAM truck driver when he’s not flying a “manned UAV” providing ISR (Intelligence/Surveillance/Reconnaissance) via a Lightning pod or similar system.
What they aren’t doing is practicing missions with large flights of multiple aircraft types or against enemies with “double digit” surface-to-air missiles. While deployed, the military has to do the mission, whatever that is. Back home, the mission should be to rest, recover, refit, and prepare for the next fight or potential fight.
When the number of hours is barely enough to sustain proficiency in the basics of all-weather flying and landing, it’s laughable to think pilots will get really good at the more demanding mission sets. On top of just maintaining the basics, aviators stateside also have to support tasking from higher headquarters, ranging from the useful, such as helping the infantry train, to the useless, such as supporting “dog and pony” shows for communities or dignitaries.
A few pilots, either the best, or those who their commanders like the most, depending on who you ask, will get to practice massive missions at advanced training such as the Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.
The rest of the herd get the minimums to keep the crew legal to fly their assigned missions. That comes with a price in both safety and mission accomplishment.
Beyond those, the real cost is in the long term. Doing the minimum in aviation training is like paying the minimum on your credit card. You can live large for awhile, going to parties like the one with ISIS. Eventually the bill gets bigger and bigger, and you end up either limping along for years, never able to get ahead, or going broke when you can’t even afford the minimum.
Typically In Marine aviation, a new pilot checks in as a first lieutenant or new captain, does a deployment or two, then ends up as an instructor to the next crop of new pilots. That now mid-grade captain is expected to be at his most proficient at tactics, able to lead the most difficult missions and train the next group of lieutenants.
If most of those captains barely get the minimums stateside, then spend their deployments schlepping cargo from base to base, the next generation doesn’t get mentorship and flight leadership knowledge passed on to them. And if that group only gets the minimums, too, then...
Those captains eventually go off to a school, or a staff job, or whatever. They come back as majors, who are now neck-deep in administrivia running operations or maintenance, and who fly the minimums, or maybe even less, because they’re too busy dealing with making quad slides in PowerPoint for their commander to show his commander. Besides, the captains are supposed to handle most of the actual flight training, right?
Eventually, the Marine Corps will be left with squadrons full of pilots who are salty enough from combat service to attract wild deer, but who worry about the basics, like doing shipboard landings.
When I started in Marine aviation, the old guys, the lieutenant colonels and colonels, often had four or five thousand hours of flight time, sometimes more. By the time I left, I was considered an unusually high-time pilot with only about 3500 hours. Those behind me are on a pace for far less.
The Marine Corps will never cry uncle on its assigned missions overseas. That “will do” mentality has kept the Marine Corps in good stead for 240 years now. But when what it physically “can do” falls short of what it will do, something is going to break. The nation’s leadership in the White House and in Congress either need to give Marine air more or ask less of it, or the broken something is likely to be many multimillion dollar aircraft and their crews.
Former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, whom President Donald Trump recently pardoned of his 2013 murder conviction, claims he was nothing more than a pawn whom generals sacrificed for political expediency.
The infantry officer had been sentenced to 19 years in prison for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men in 2012. Two of the men were killed.
During a Monday interview on Fox & Friends, Lorance accused his superiors of betraying him.
"A service member who knows that their commanders love them will go to the gates of hell for their country and knock them down," Lorance said. "I think that's extremely important. Anybody who is not part of the senior Pentagon brass will tell you the same thing."
"I think folks that start putting stars on their collar — anybody that has got to be confirmed by the Senate for a promotion — they are no longer a soldier, they are a politician," he continued. "And so I think they lose some of their values — and they certainly lose a lot of their respect from their subordinates — when they do what they did to me, which was throw me under the bus."
Fifteen years after the U.S. military toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Army's massive two-volume study of the Iraq War closed with a sobering assessment of the campaign's outcome: With nearly 3,500 U.S. service members killed in action and trillions of dollars spent, "an emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor.
Thanks to roughly 700 pages of newly-publicized secret Iranian intelligence cables, we now have a good idea as to why.
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Mark Esper expressed confidence on Sunday in the U.S. military justice system's ability to hold troops to account, two days after President Donald Trump pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan.
Trump also restored the rank of a Navy SEAL platoon commander who was demoted for actions in Iraq.
Asked how he would reassure countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the pardons, Esper said: "We have a very effective military justice system."
"I have great faith in the military justice system," Esper told reporters during a trip to Bangkok, in his first remarks about the issue since Trump issued the pardons.
For one veteran who fought through the crossfires of German heavy machine guns in the D-Day landings, receiving a Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of his service and that of his World War II comrades would be "quite meaningful."
Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to award the Army Rangers of World War II the medal, the highest civilian award bestowed by the United States, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
An airman at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base was arrested and charged with murder on Sunday after a shooting at a Raleigh night club that killed a 21-year-old man, the Air Force and the Raleigh Police Department said.