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Marine Corps Update: Legacy and Leading-Edge Aviation

For the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) smallest component, personnel and budget issues have been historic challenges, but few could match the current “perfect storm” of greater-than-expected reductions in force, ever-tighter budgets, sequestration, furloughs, and a three-week government “shut down” to start the fiscal year. All this has been taking place while the Corps has been responding to the administration’s “Pacific pivot” – focusing less on Europe and the Middle East and more on Asia and the Pacific, where a dearth of land bases is placing greater emphasis on naval forces.

As the Marine Corps wraps up its 12th year of combat in Afghanistan, it faces major concerns for the future of its aviation element. Those range from operating legacy aircraft beyond their planned retirement dates, to dealing with the still-rocky course to deployment of the F-35B, to recent reports the Air Force may be forced to ground its aging fleet of A-10 close air support (CAS) aircraft.

“This airplane [the F-35B] is critical to … the future of tactical aviation in the Marine Corps.”

While upgrades have kept the legacy fleet technologically current in many respects, including improvements to the airframes in the final production runs, the Corps has committed to expanding missions for the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey and replacing many of its existing types with the fifth-generation F-35B in the next two decades.

“This airplane [the F-35B] is critical to … the future of tactical aviation in the Marine Corps,” according to Lt. Gen. Robert E. Schmidle, deputy commandant for aviation.

MV-22 Osprey

A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 161, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, conducts a deployment for training (DFT) exercise, Aug. 18, 2013. VMM-161 conducted the DFT to increase proficiency with the aircraft as well as to prepare the Marines for upcoming deployments and contingency operations. The MV-22 has proved its worth and confounded its detractors. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Nathan Sotelo

The short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) “B” is one of three variants of the Lightning II. Although the original plan was to acquire only the STOVL version, the Corps modified their acquisition plan a couple of years ago to replace some of those with the U.S. Navy’s F-35C carrier model.

The short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) “B” is one of three variants of the Lightning II. Although the original plan was to acquire only the STOVL version, the Corps modified their acquisition plan a couple of years ago to replace some of those with the U.S. Navy’s F-35C carrier model.

At the same time, efforts are under way to replace aging helicopters with the V-22 and new rotary platforms – the CH-53K heavy lift helicopter, UH-1Y Venom, and AH-1Z Viper. Those join other new and legacy aircraft in the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) within the Corps’ expeditionary cornerstone, the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF).

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...