In a brief to reporters this week, Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lieutenant General Jon Davis revealed that more than half of Marine aircraft were down and could not fly in the month of December.

Lt. Gen. Davis cited a number of factors, specifically: maintenance costs, a shrinking budget to maintain the aircraft, and the traditionally low productivity holiday months, as reasons for the drop in operational readiness.

The Marine Corps’ primary fighter and attack aircraft is the F/A-18 Hornet, an incredibly versatile aircraft, but one that made its original debut in the early 80’s. Since then, a variety of upgraded models have expanded the capacity and longevity of the aircraft.

The F/A-18 Hornet, and other aircraft from the late 70’s and 80’s, all benefited from the huge investment made into the American military spearheaded by President Reagan. The capacity to research and bulk up our military infrastructure and technology was made possible by massive spending; arguably the reason the U.S. was able to vastly outspend the Soviets until their economic system collapsed under its own weight.

The generally accepted lifespan of a military aircraft is 20-30 years, an age that aircraft across the U.S. military are fast approaching, if they are not already there. But the generational conflict which defined the Cold War no longer provides the same impetus for dramatic military spending. Combine that with the Budget Control Act of 2011, and the inevitable result will be aircraft and equipment unable to perform their mission.

The Marine Corps’ issues with these aircraft is indicative of a trend across the U.S. military with regard to operational readiness and maintenance. It also reflects the reality that the Global War on Terror has altered our mindset, both in the military and out.

When the bright shiny object attracting everyone’s attention for 15 years is dropping smart bombs onto IED emplacers wearing sandals and robes, the necessity for total military overmatch—the American military’s traditional operational mandate—gets lost in the white noise of slow, boring, counter-insurgency.

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The military technology of the 1980s is entirely appropriate to fight 3-4 man elements armed with AK’s and PKM’s. It will not suffice against a modernizing China and Russia. As General David Petraeus said recently before the House Armed Services Committee:

“Americans should not take the current international order for granted,” Petraeus said. “It did not will itself into existence. We created it. Likewise, it is not naturally self-sustaining. We have sustained it. If we stop doing so, it will fray and, eventually, collapse.”

A void will appear in a world absent of American military supremacy, and someone, whether we like them or not, will step up to fill it.

Image Courtesy of Defense Media Network