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US Marine Corps does not have enough pilots to fly the F-35B

by Dario Leone
US Marine Corps does not have enough pilots to fly the F-35B

USMC Commandant Gen. David Berger has warned that his service does not have enough pilots to fly the F-35B.

US Marine Corps (USMC) Commandant Gen. David Berger has warned that his service does not have enough pilots to fly the F-35B.

Berger made the revelation in the “Force Design 2030”, a 10-year force outlook plan.

“Our continued inability to build and sustain an adequate inventory of F-35 pilots leads me to conclude that we must be pragmatic regarding our ability to support,” Berger was quoted as saying.

As told by Breaking Defense, he calls for an external assessment of the aircraft’s place within the service relative to what he’s being asked to do in the National Defense Strategy and the forthcoming Joint Warfighting Concept, a document the Joint Staff is expected to wrap up later this year.

Besides pilot shortfalls, Berger points out high costs of maintaining and flying the F-35B as factors he’s weighing “in reconciling the growing disparity between numbers of platforms and numbers of aircrew.”

Berger also outlines in the new document that he has had enough of the service’s Abrams tanks. Although the tanks were effective in Iraq’s Anbar province, they would offer little utility on small islands in the Pacific. The USMC said in the document that a series of wargames conducted between 2018 and 2019 proved that the tanks are “operationally unsuitable for our highest-priority challenges in the future.”

US Marine Corps does not have enough pilots to fly the F-35B
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While questioning time-tested and iconic weapons like Abrams tanks, and the massive capabilities that the F-35 can bring, “they’re looking at the totality of the force” said Dakota Wood, senior research fellow for defense programs at The Heritage Foundation. “Berger has been very bold in saying we just can’t afford to have small batches of everything,” so he has set out on a path to bear down on what is most critical to fighting a war in the Pacific against a modern Chinese military

Even if the changes will be seen as early as the fiscal year 2022 budget, slated to drop next February, the new force design is slated to phase in over the next decade.

That gives the USMC months to build their case for reimagining the force, which includes buying new capabilities like mobile rocket artillery and long-range fires while scrapping legacy platforms like heavy- and medium-helicopter squadrons and towed artillery, Breaking Defense says. The plan also calls for eliminating law enforcement units, bridging companies, three infantry battalions, and anti-aircraft units.

General Dynamics, that produces the Abrams, Lockheed Martin, that builds the F-35, as well as the other major prime contractors who build the helicopters and ground vehicles and artillery systems to be tossed over the side and the lawmakers who have plants in their states and districts will certainly have opinions on these moves.

“There’s going to be a lot of pushback by people who aren’t up to speed on these current issues who are reaching back to their own previous references of 10, 20, 30, years ago,” Wood pointed out. “Tanks are awesome in urban warfare environments, but if you haven’t thought about the operating environment the Marine Corps will encounter in the near future, these ideas might be difficult to understand.” 

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Photo credit: U.S. Marine Corps

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