The Virginian-Pilot has obtained an internal, classified report indicating that there are very serious problems in the United States Marine Corps heavy-lift helicopter fleet. The independent study, ordered by the Marines last year, focuses on the CH-53 Super Stallion and is marked as "For Official Use Only."
According to the Super Stallion Independent Readiness Review, there's serious concern about the ability of the Marines to put CH-53s into action. For one, there just aren't enough – the current fleet of 146 choppers is 50 fewer than needed and is down significantly from the 230 originally purchased by the Marines. The report also cites "unacceptably poor readiness" due to parts shortages and maintenance backups. According to the report, only 23 percent of the fleet is ready to fly – the typical readiness requirement is 75 percent.
Perhaps the more glaring problem is how much the Marines are spending on the CH-53 fleet. The Corps spent just $100,000 on each of its Super Stallions after withdrawing from Afghanistan and used temporary contractors to do the work. The Army, meanwhile, spent $1.2 million per helo and put in over 6,000 man hours restoring its fleet. There's also concerns about flight time for pilots.
This, of course, is not necessarily new information. Late last month, we reported on a Marine Corps investigation into its helicopter fleet. That report found a distinct lack of training time for its pilots, and questioned whether this was the reason there have been so many fatal training accidents.
The Corps' response, thankfully, is to spend a big bunch of money bringing its CH-53s back up to snuff. Around half of the $650 million the Corps allocated for reset programs is being spent on the Super Stallion, with the goal of returning the fleet's readiness to acceptable levels by 2019. But even with this spending on maintenance and training, the Marines will still be shorthanded and stuck waiting not for more Super Stallions, but for its replacement, the CH-53K King Stallion.
According Foxtrot Alpha, the CH-53E will be stuck in service until at least 2031. That's when the last Marine Corps will require the last of the 200 K models it's ordered will be delivered (provided there are no further setbacks).