Commander Naval Air Forces (CNAF) 3 Star Admiral Mike Shoemaker says readiness is not the issue for recent mishaps. That seems to be a difficult argument to make.

VADM Shoemaker spoke to an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Thursday. He laid out the Naval Air Forces’ current readiness recovery plan, but it centered on service life extension–not the current mishaps and readiness issues.

The Navy’s F/A-18 E/F early lot Super Hornets are reaching a 6,000 hours. At that point they will need to undergo depot level maintenance to make them last upwards of 10,000 hours. When an aircraft undergoes depot maintenance, it is placed out of service. Too many aircraft can put a strain on the remaining operational fleet.

We’ve got to make sure we get that right,” Shoemaker said. “I think if we look at where we are,we can’t afford to have 50 percent of the fleet out of reporting. We’ve got to keep that down; one-fifth, maybe, is our target.”

Shoemaker is expected to brief Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller soon on the recovery plan.

However, Shoemaker made a startling statement that says the recent mishaps in Naval Aviation are not tied to readiness. The Navy and Marine Corps have suffered five Class A mishaps over the summer, including a Blue Angels crash that killed Capt. Jeff Kuss and a night sortie crash that killed Maj. Norton Sterling.

“As I look back at those [mishaps] and then the last couple of years, trying to make a tie to readiness and proficiency, in every case it’s not there,” he said.

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“Look at the trends from ’14 to ’15 to where we are today, actually the trends for Navy aviation are coming down,” Shoemaker said. “I wouldn’t characterize it as a crisis; I can’t make that connection.”

To be fair, it is difficult to make any type of analysis based off a few recent data points. However, I would absolutely disagree with CNAF that “every” case is not based on lack of proficiency.

Flying fighter aircraft is difficult. Flying is not like riding a bike, where you can pick it back up after a prolonged layoff. Not putting aviators into the cockpit on a regular basis–in other words giving them at least 15 hours a month to maintain proficiecny no matter where in the deployment cycle–is a complete a disservice.

Not flying on a regular basis and then asking a pilot to perform a difficult hop such as BFM (Basic Fighter Maneuver), Close Air Support, or anything at night is asking for more risk.

More risk translates to more chance of a mishap. That is a connection everyone can make.

You can read Hope Hodge Seck’s full article here.

Top photo: A Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet takes off from an aircraft carrier. (Photo courtesy of wallconvert.com)