F-35 Lowers Readiness Rates
August 11, 2019
US Air Force suffers from low readiness rates; the newer aircraft is, the lower readiness is. The US renews its fleets to sustain high readiness rate but on the contrary, it decreases the Air Force Times report indicates.
Lockheed Martin is waiting for the green light to start at serial production but it needs first Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E) approval. Under federal law, a major defence acquisition program cannot legally proceed to full-rate production until the director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E) submits a final report to the secretary of defence and Congress following the conclusion of the testing process. The green light, however, is not lit as Joint Program Office’s Integrated Test Force cannot complete test procedure. To complete the tests, aircraft have to overpass a threshold operational readiness rate. The F-35 operational test fleet has averaged a readiness rate of 11% since IOT&E began on Dec. 5, December 2018.
The 23 aircraft in the test fleet achieved a “fully mission capable” rate of 8.7 per cent in June 2019. A fully mission-capable aircraft can perform all of its assigned missions, a particularly important readiness measure for multi-mission programs such as the F-35.
The June rate can be judged as success over the previous month, as the fleet managed a rate of 4.7 per cent. Since the beginning of operational testing in December 2018, the fleet has had an average fully mission capable rate of just 11 per cent. The Pentagon’s operational testing director has stated that the test fleet needs an 80 per cent availability rate to meet the demanding schedule of the program’s test and evaluation master plan.
Aircraft mission capability statuses can be degraded for reasons including a lack of spare parts or a failure in a mission system like the radar or electronic warfare instruments. The Distributed Aperture System that provides the pilot warnings of incoming missiles and generates the imagery for the $400,000 helmet that the pilot wears are one of main failing systems. Even though aircraft may fulfil many missions under such conditions a test aircraft at the centre has to have all systems functioning properly.
Air Force Times claims that readiness figures across all of the Air Force’s aircraft programs have steadily decreased over the past eight years.
In 2012, all 5,400 aircraft averaged a “mission capable” rate of 77.9 per cent. By 2018, that figure had slid to 69.97 per cent. A mission-capable aircraft can perform at least one of its assigned tasks.
Newer aircraft like the F-22 and F-35 are averaging lower mission capable rates than the legacy aircraft they are slated to replace. For example, the F-22 fleet had a mission capable rate of 51.74 per cent in 2018, while the older F-15E had a rate of 71.16 per cent. The F-35A fleet averaged a mission capable rate of 49.55 per cent, while the F-16D had a rate of 66.24 per cent, and the A-10C had a 72.51 mission capable rate.
The F-35 operational test fleet readiness is not any better. The readiness rates have been consistently bad. The Pentagon is expected to decide in October whether the F-35 program is ready to move to full-rate production. In light of the disclosure of the testing fleet’s struggles, the decision is uncertain.