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Vice Chiefs of Staff Paint Dire Picture of U.S. Air Power

At a House Armed Services Committee Hearing Tuesday, the Vice Chiefs of Staff of both the Navy and the Air Force sounded the alarm over the U.S. military’s ability to field sufficient air power to support military operations.

Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) cited statistics from a report in Defense News that 53 percent of naval aircraft would not be able to fly. Thornberry also pointed to the report’s claim that 62 percent of F-18s “are out of service.”

Admiral William Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, confirmed the numbers. “When it comes to the strike fighter community … are well beyond their design life, let alone their service life. They were designed for 6,000 hours, and we’re extending the life on those [fighters] into the [8,000-] to 9,000-hour range,” Moran said.

Moran also blamed sequestration for reducing the Navy’s ability to repair fighter jets.

Thornberry and Moran highlighted the significant contribution naval air power has made in hitting ISIS and al-Qaeda.

Thornberry also questioned General Wilson, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, over the branch’s state of readiness. “What I’m struck by is we’re short 1,500 pilots, 3,400 maintainers, in the smallest Air Force we’ve ever had,” Thornberry said.

“In 1991, when we went into Desert Storm, our Air Force was 500,000 people and 134 fighter squadrons. Today, we find ourselves at 317,000 in our active force, with 55 fighter squadrons,” Wilson pointed out.

Wilson expressed concern over Air Force pilot’s readiness, given their lack of experience and flight hours. “In the late ’70s … fighter pilots were flying about 15 sorties a month and about 20 hours. Today, we’re flying less hours and less sorties than we were in the ’70s.”