US Marines ground aircraft for 24 hours following crashes

WASHINGTON -- The commandant of the US Marine Corps announced a 24-hour operational pause for all of the branch's aircraft Friday, a move that comes after the Marines suffered two deadly crashes in recent weeks.

"Gen. Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the US Marine Corps, directed US Marine Corps aviation units to conduct an operational reset for a 24 hour-period where no flight operations will take place but no operational commitments will be impacted," the Marine Corps said in a statement.

The pause will affect all Marine Corps aircraft, including those with tilt-rotors, helicopters and fixed-wing planes.

Each unit commander will have the flexibility to carry out the pause at his or her discretion within a two-week period, meaning not all aircraft will be grounded at the same time. This will allow Marines currently performing combat missions to continue operating and come up with a plan to ensure that operational commitments are not affected by the pause.

The operational reset is not related to any equipment issues, and the Marines plan to use the 24-hour period "to focus on the fundamentals of safe flight operations, standardization, and combat readiness." Flying squadrons will review selected incidents and study historical examples of completed investigations "in order to bring awareness and best practices to the fleet."

The pause comes after two major Marine Corps aviation accidents. An MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft crashed last week while operating off the coast of Australia, killing three of the 26 Marines on board. A KC-130T transport plane crashed in Mississippi in July, resulting in the death of 15 Marines and a Navy corpsman

"Pauses in operations are not uncommon and are viewed as a responsible step to refresh and review best practices and procedures so our units remain capable, safe, and ready," the Marine Corps statement said.

The Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, issued a statement shortly after the announcement which said that the pause underscored a need for increased defense spending.

"The Marine Corps' decision to temporarily ground all aircraft is further, indisputable evidence that America's military is in a readiness crisis, and that the crisis is costing lives," Thornberry said.

"Congress must act as soon as possible to provide our military with all of the resources they need to repair what can be fixed and replace what cannot be repaired," he added.

Thornberry's committee has proposed a major defense spending increase, with a significantly higher topline number than what has been proposed by President Donald Trump's budget.

The Defense Department has long said that budget constraints and the need to carry out ongoing operations has caused readiness and training to become less of a priority in past years.

"Because readiness is something you can defer to the future, we deferred a lot of training during that time period in order to make those numbers work," Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month.

But Selva cautioned tying individual accidents like the KC-130T crash to a reduction in training, saying senators and others "should be careful" about drawing snap conclusions.