A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 161 (Reinforced) prepares to land on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy
U.S. Marine Corps aviation squadron commanders incorrectly reported the number of aircraft ready for combat, leading to inaccurate accounting of readiness rates across the service’s aviation units, according to the U.S. Defense Department (DOD) watchdog.
Of 10 Marine Corps squadrons surveyed by the DOD Inspector General (IG), nine commanders did not report the state of their squadron’s aircraft readiness, according to a report published Aug. 8.
Both F/A-18 and CH-53E squadrons of the 2nd Marine Air Wing (MAW) stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, and 3rd MAW at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, were audited.
The Marine Corps’ three active air wings (1st, 2nd and 3rd MAWs) include 19 tactical F/A-18 and CH-53E squadrons. The audit team selected 11 tactical squadrons due to squadron availability and time constraints. Because one F/A-18 squadron converted from the F/A-18 airframe to the F-35 airframe during the audit, the squadrons decreased from 11 to 10.
Each squadron is expected to execute a list of specified mission essential tasks (METs). As part of the readiness reporting, squadron commanders are required to complete an assessment of the squadron’s core METs. To perform its core METs, a squadron must have a specific number of mission-capable aircraft.
Of the squadrons sampled, five squadron commanders did not accurately report the number of mission-capable aircraft in the MET assessment and generally overstated by between one and three aircraft, according to the audit report.
Four squadron commanders failed to accurately report whether their unit was properly equipped to perform its mission.
“Without accurate readiness reporting, Marine Corps officials do not have an accurate assessment of what the aircraft's capabilities currently are, which could negatively impact planning for training and operations by assigning a mission to an aircraft it is not capable of performing,” the audit report said. “This could potentially put mission accomplishment and personnel at risk.”
Squadron commanders report aircraft readiness rates through two systems. The Defense Readiness Reporting System-Marine Corps, which is the service’s system of record for reporting its aircraft readiness, and the Optimized Organizational Maintenance Activity (OOMA) system.
Still, Marine Corps guidance on how to report aircraft readiness is unclear and interpreted differently by squadron commanders, the IG found. The service lacks clear definitions of present-state readiness, is “silent” on how commanders should report mission-capable aircraft and “unclear” how commanders should report resourcing levels, the report says. Marine Aircraft Group officials also did not provide oversight to ensure that squadron commanders accurately reported squadron aircraft readiness.
The IG recommends that the Marine Corps deputy commandant for aviation — currently Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder — require all reporting units and organizations to use the Optimized Organizational Maintenance Activity (OOMA) system as the sole source for reporting aircraft readiness. Rudder’s office agreed to implement that recommendation, but responded that OOMA, used in combination with the Marine Aviation Commanders Combat Readiness Assessment Tool, would provide a more accurate assessment of aircraft readiness than OOMA alone.
“Therefore, we consider the recommendation unresolved and request additional comments to the final report,” the IG report said.