Military Aviation

Mission capable rates dropped in 2021 for every USAF fighter type except the A-10

The USAF aims for mission capable rates between 75 percent and 80 percent on most aircraft, but none stood at that level as fiscal 2021 ended.

Reversing progress in 2020 mission capable rates dropped in 2021 for every US Air Force (USAF) fighter type except the A-10, Air Force Magazine reported.

“Mission capable” (MC) rates measure the readiness of an aircraft’s ability to perform at least one of its core missions; for example, the multirole F-16 is tasked for air-to-air combat, ground attack, or suppression of enemy air defenses. Instead, “full mission capable” refers to an aircraft that is ready to perform all of its assigned missions.

The USAF aims for MC rates between 75 percent and 80 percent on most aircraft, but none stood at that level as fiscal 2021 ended.

The F-35A rate declined from 76.07 percent to 68.8 percent from 2020 to 2021 as an increasing number of F-35s came due for their first big engine overhauls. About 40 F-35As have been grounded because of a shortage of engines.

However, the F-35A MC rate remained above that of 2019, when it was just 61.6 percent.

The F-15E fleet saw MC rates fall three percentage points, from 69.21 percent in fiscal 2021 to 66.24 percent.

The F-15C declined to 69.48 percent from 71.93 percent, and the F-15D model fell from 70.52 percent to 68.56 percent. The USAF’s F-15C fleet is beyond its planned service life, and the jet is encumbered with numerous operating restrictions and “vanishing vendor” parts shortages.

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The F-16C turned in an MC rate of 71.53 percent in fiscal 2021, down from 73.9 percent in fiscal ’20. The F-16D model came in at 69.32 percent, down from 72.11 percent.

The F-22 continued to hover at just over 50 percent, reflecting the fleet’s relatively small size and numerous challenges. The USAF said the rate was just 50.81 percent in 2021, about one percentage point down from 2020. According to Air Force Magazine, the service said that low F-22 MC rates in recent years to challenges caring for the Raptor’s low observable systems as well as continuing repercussions from severe damage inflicted on about 10 percent of the fleet by Hurricane Michael in 2018. Parts obsolescence is also an issue.

The A-10s are the healthiest jets in the fighter force. Perhaps benefitting from an ongoing re-winging program, the A-10 MC rate ticked up from 71.2 percent in fiscal 2020 to 72.54 percent in fiscal 2021. The Warthog is generally less sophisticated than the other fighters, with fewer sensor systems, and its maintainers are generally more experienced, as most A-10s belong to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.

As already reported the USAF abandoned 80% mission capable rate goals in May 2020 (since then the service has sought to de-emphasize the rates and instead focus on unit readiness as a more accurate way to evaluate combat capability), after its F-22, F-35 and F-16 fleets failed to meet the readiness goal ordered in September 2018 by then US secretary of defense James Mattis.

Mattis directed the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps to reach an 80 percent mission capable rate across their fighter and strike fighter aircraft squadrons by the end of September 2019.

General Charles Brown, USAF chief of staff, said in written testimony sent to the US Armed Services Committee and released on May 7, 2020 that the service has dropped that readiness goal.

The US Navy announced on Sep. 24, 2019 that Naval Aviation has achieved its Secretary of Defense-mandated readiness target of an 80 percent mission-capable rate for both its operational F/A-18 E/F “Super Hornet” and EA-18G “Growler” fleets.

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Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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