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Despite Massive Budget, US Air Force Mission-Capable Rates Plummet For 6th Consecutive Year

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Despite Massive Budget, US Air Force Mission-Capable Rates Plummet For 6th Consecutive Year

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The US Air Force is struggling to keep its readiness up to par. In Fiscal Year 2018, for the first time in 6 years, the Air Force’s mission-capable rate fell below 70%.

Of the 5,413 or so aircraft in the fleet, the percentage that are able to fly at any given time has decreased steadily each year since at least fiscal 2012, when 77.9 percent of aircraft were deemed flyable. By fiscal 2017, that metric had plunged to 71.3 percent, and it dipped further to 69.97 percent in 2018, according to statistics obtained by Air Force Times via the Freedom of Information Act.

This is an absolute decrease of approximately 8% since 2012.

Despite Massive Budget, US Air Force Mission-Capable Rates Plummet For 6th Consecutive Year

Click to see full-size image

This declining trend is happening, despite its massive funding, and with a budget that continues being increased every year. It even has the F-35 fighter jet, the most expensive project in military history and in 2018, the mission-capable rates of this “amazing” fighter were at 49.55%, whereas in 2017 the share was at 54.67%. So, the F-35 actually got less mission-capable the closer it came to being officially commissioned.

The Air Force is also allegedly working hard on reversing the trends, such as introducing extra shifts for Guards.

Before he retired from the position, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has ordered the Air Force to get its F-16, F-22 and F-35 mission-capable rates up to 80 percent by the end of 2019. That, looking at the numbers for 2019 appears to be an impossible dream.

“The Air Force has got a big hole it’s got to dig itself out of, and they’re taking their time doing it,” said John Venable, a Heritage Foundation fellow and former F-16 pilot who flew in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In all, 39 of the Air Force’s 87 air frames saw declines in readiness, some significantly. And they include some of the service’s most vital aircraft. Among the most alarming declines from fiscal 2017 to FY 2018.

These changes can be traced in the following table:

Despite Massive Budget, US Air Force Mission-Capable Rates Plummet For 6th Consecutive Year

Click to see full-size image

In a July 17 interview, Col. Bill Maxwell, chief of the Air Force’s maintenance division, said the overall decline is concerning.

“Any degradation in readiness that we have, our ability to be able to perform our mission, is absolutely a concern to a tremendous amount of people,” Maxwell said. “Not least of which are the maintainers and the operators out there in the operational wings, but also all the way up to the Air Staff here as well.”

“I agree that any degradation in readiness is something the USAF will continue to work to understand and mitigate within the resources we have,” Maxwell said. “However, I don’t agree that the numbers provided here provide a valid representation of the Air Force in their simple form.”

The Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek, in an email to the Air Force Times said that these rates don’t do the real state justice.

“Mission capable rates do not equate to Air Force readiness rates. They are just one component assessed at the unit level to help determine how ready a squadron is to meet the threat.”

The Air Force attributes the decline to several factors, according to a July 15 statement from spokesman Robert Leese. The primary culprit is the advancing age of the fleet, which hit 28 years on average across the total force. Notably, the average age of a fighter or attack aircraft was 27 years in 2018, as opposed to 1991 when they were 10 years old on average.

“The longer we extend the service life of our legacy aircraft, the more investment, inspection man-hours, preventive maintenance and manpower they will require,” Leese said.

A part of the reason is that some aged warplanes use unique parts. Whatever could be scavenged from decommissioned warplanes was taken away, but other things need to be ordered from contractors. Something one would imagine would be no problem, keeping in mind the massive budget for defense.

In addition, maintenance works also appear scarce. For years, the Air Force struggled with severe shortfalls in its maintenance career fields. At one point, the Air Force was down about 4,000 maintainers.

This was allegedly exacerbated by the Air Force’s downsizing in 2014. Since then they’ve continued receiving more and more funds, but for fewer people. The shortfall in 2019 appears to be solved, but now there is a skill issue, there’s more than enough lower level maintenance workers, and not nearly enough higher-level ones.

The same can be said about pilots, since low mission-capable rates for warplanes means that there’s fewer machines to also train on and acquire experience.

Time will show whether Jim Mattis’ plan would turn into reality by the end of 2019. But it is a fact that the military in the US receives bigger budgets each year.

For 2020 and 2021, the Budget Act relegates more funds for military than every other branch of government combined.

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  • occupybacon

    How about the rates of aircraft accidents in Syria?

    • grumpy_carpenter

      8 for the Russians.

      Compare that to 75 US aircraft lost in the Gulf war.
      153 US aircraft lost from 2003 to 2009 in Iraq. 49 to hostile fire.
      141 coalition aircraft lost in Afghanistan … vast majority US with 34 to hostile fire
      and just under 10,000 in Vietnam.

      • occupybacon

        I didn’t ask about the numbers lost, I asked about the proportion of accidents. Just to check the readiness of Russian aerospace forces.

        • grumpy_carpenter

          Proportion of accidents to what? Aircraft in theater? total sorties? coalition? At the peak of the operation Russia was launching 60 sorties / day to the coalitions 7/ day with a force 1/4 the size of the coalition.

          Over the first 6 months the Russians conducted 10,000 sorties. I can’t find a figure for after that.

          From Sept 2014 to Jan 2019 (52 months) the US coalition conducted 17,000 sorties.

          So you can sleep soundly, the Russian air force keep their aircraft in a high state of readiness by leaving them out in the open, flying off junk strewn runways and working the shit out of their aircraft which are weapons of war not high tech hanger queens meant to liberate Americans from their tax dollars.

          • Valerianus Maximus

            Careful, you’ll give him a complex over having his bacon occupied by the pedophile pilots of the Israeli Air Force

          • Daniel Rich

            @ grumpy-carpenter,

            Quote: “…not high tech hanger queens meant to liberate Americans from their tax dollars.”

            Reply: Every now and then I come across a pearl of wisdom on the internet. This is one of ’em.

            +10

          • BMWA1

            Then there is the Ukrainian air farce.

  • Hasbara Hunter

    The U.S. LBGTQI-Cavalry can only Rape & Pillage small and weak countries…Punch the Loudmouthed Bully Hard on the Nose & it will start cryin’….

  • Barba_Papa

    Not really surprising. There are too many ongoing commitments that require more emphasis is being placed on deployments in warzones and less on maintaining aircraft back home. The Dutch air force suffers from this as well. Aircraft back home get less maintenance, or even worse, get cannibalized for spare parts, as all focus is on the overseas deployment, the pilots get less flight time, or even resign from the service altogether, as becoming an airline pilot is a lot less stressful for them and their family life over constant deployments.

    The F-35 being a money pit that slurped up way too much budget didn’t help, neither does the focus of the military industrial complex on selling the US government new stuff, rather then maintain its old stuff. New stuff is after all more lucrative. With the F-16’s and F-15’s Lockheed and Boeing already have that US taxpayer money. All they can get out of them are some servicing contracts and spare parts. With the F-35 you can wring US taxpayer money for all of that plus for new aircraft and training seminars for pilots and ground crew.

    • viktor ziv

      “get cannibalized for spare parts” is it allowed to do so? I mean each part of the specific plane is calibrated for the specific plane. That makes planes unique. So, spare part needs to be purchased by manufacturer according to calibration data for the specific plane.

      • Barba_Papa

        Aircraft get cannibalized all the time. That’s why the US maintains a huge aircraft graveyard at Davis Monthan airbase in the desert. And why the F-16 is such a popular aircraft. So many have been produced that there are a lot of spare parts in circulation to keep the remaining fleet in operation for decades. Same with aircraft like the MiG-21. There’s a reason why some countries keep operating them. Shitloads of available spare parts. Contrast that to the Mirage 2000 and you’ll see its operators struggling to keep their fleets in operation because not that many were built, so not that many spare parts are in circulation.

        While I’m sure that there are some parts uniquely calibrated for a specific plane I highly doubt that goes for most parts of a plane. Otherwise those companies whose modus operandi is to buy up old aircraft and chop them up for spare parts wouldn’t be in business.

  • Attrition47

    The writer keeps referring to stupendous budgets, how much of them doesn’t go on golf courses?

  • Dick Von Dast’Ard

    USN/USMC inventory figures for mission readiness would make an interesting comparison and chart.

  • Assad must stay (gr8rambino)

    good, inshallah it keeps going down to 0 eventually

  • Brian Michael Bo Pedersen

    I can say that not having 100% readiness of all military gear is standard in every army.
    Some are fit for fight, some are being repaired, some are mothballed.

    When i was in the Royal Danish Army, our Leopard 2A5´s had about 1/3 combat ready, the other 1/3 was down for repair and the last 1/3 was either mothballed/long time storage or used for spareparts.

    All armys does this, there nothing “alarming” per se about it.
    Many of the USAF planes are loosing readiness proportional with them getting older, and at some point it is more economically, more sound to cannabalise older planes to keep newer planes alive.
    Theres no point in buying parts for 100mill to keep 50 planes flyi8ng, if you have 50 planes in longtime storage, that will not get airworthy before they are replaced.

    So just looking at the numbers and statistics is useless, you need to look at the reasons and the financial part of the reasons for them dropping in readiness.