By: “Task and Purpose” for The National Interest, Mar. 20, 2019
In February, the commander of the U.S. Naval Air Forces proclaimed that the Navy’s F-35C Joint Strike Fighter was “ready for operations, ready for combat and ready to win” — even though the Navy’s own testing data says otherwise.
Testing data obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) indicates that the F-35 variant’s “fully mission capable” rate — a key measure of an military aircraft’s readiness — collapsed from 12% in October 2016 to zero in December 2017 before remaining flat through 2018.
The Marine Corps’ F-35B hasn’t fared much better: According to the POGO report, the aircraft’s FMC rate fell from 23% in October 2017 to 12.9% in June 2018.
Both of these rates are far below the September 2019 target of an 80% mission capable rate for both Navy and Air Force fighter jets by set by former Defense Secretary James Mattis back in October.
These shortcomings come weeks after an annual report from the Pentagon’s operational testing and evaluation arm highlighted the alarmingly low service life of the F-35B that “may be as low as 2,100 [hours],” well bellow the expected service life of 8,000 hours.
According to POGO, these readiness shortfalls dramatically reduce the availability of aircraft and, in turn, the next-generation’s overall effectiveness downrange. From the report :
To tell how many planes can actually get to the fight requires a second measure, the sortie generation rate: that is, how many flights per day each fighter in the fleet completes. The 2018 DOT&E report makes no mention of it.