The United States Air Force officially abandoned its directive to get its fleet of F-35, F-22 and F-16 jets up to an 80% mission-capable rate after failing to meet that goal in Fiscal Year 2019.
Appearing at the 2019 Defense News Conference, Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly, deputy chief of staff for operations, said that the F-22 and F-35A would both fall short of the capability target set by Mattis shortly before his exit from the Pentagon. The F-16, however, “should” hit that target rate.
Of the 5,413 or so aircraft in the fleet, the percentage able to fly at any given time decreased steadily each year since at least FY12, when 77.9% of aircraft were deemed flyable. By FY17, that metric plunged to 71.3%, and it dipped again to 69.97% in FY18.
According to written responses by Air Force General Charles Q. Brown ahead of his May 7 confirmation hearing, “the F-16 mission capable rate reached a high of 75% in June 2019, the F-22 mission capable rate achieved a high of 68% in April 2019 and the F-35 mission capability rate climbed to a high of 74% in September 2019.”
Data obtained by Defense News and Air Forces Times, however, showed that over the entire 2019 the rate is also under 80%, and wouldn’t be able to achieve the 80% goal mandated by an order by back-then US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, given in October 2018.
The overall rates were, reportedly, “much lower” throughout the year.
The F-35A fighter jet, the conventional landing type, actually improved in 2019, reaching a mission-capable rate of 62%, compared to 50% in 2018.
The F-16 mission-capable rate grew a bit, with F-16C going to 73% in 2019, compared to 70% in 2018. The F-16D’s mission-capable rate rose from 66 percent to 70 percent over that time period.
The F-22 mission-capable rate decreased slightly, going to 51% in 2019, from 52% in 2018.
In order to avoid future disappointment, Pentagon leadership decided not to renew the effort in FY20, Brown told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“The Office of the Secretary of Defense determined the FY19 80-percent Mission Capable (MC) Rate initiative is not an FY20 requirement,” wrote Brown.
Instead, the Air Force is returning to the practice of allowing commanders to set their mission-capable objectives.
“We continue to balance near term readiness recovery with investment long-term combat capability,” Brown said. “While maintaining all of our aging fleets are difficult and expensive, we continuously examine emerging technologies, commercial best practices, and other methods to reduce the sustainment costs for our Air Force.”
In his hearing, Brown reiterated the Air Force’s need to grow to 386 squadrons over the long term. He also said that the US Air Force was capable of carrying out the National Defense Strategy “to an extent.”
“In the immediate term, I think we are, but we’ve still got to be able to grow to the 386” squadrons, Brown said. “Anything less than 386 incurs risk.”
He acknowledged the Air Force may come close but might not completely meet that goal, which was first laid out by previous Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.
However, progress in terms of unmanned technology would be of great assistance.
“We may be a little bit smaller than 386, but we’ll be more capable,” Brown said. “It’s not just the manned platforms; it’s also how we do manned-unmanned teaming. The XQ-58 Valkyrie [combat drone] is one of those systems that we can team up with, particularly some of our fifth-gen capability to increase our range, increase our awareness, to increase our strike capability.”
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- In Photos: US Air Force Stages “Moose Walk” In Alaska
- In Photos: F-35 Jets Of US Air Force Over Northeastern Syria