BEIRUT, LEBANON (6:45 P.M.) – The U.S. Navy’s F-35C stealth fighter jet is not ready for combat-related activity, despite a proclamation from the commander of the U.S. Naval Air Forces about the aircraft being “ready for operations, ready for combat and ready to win,” the Task and Purpose publication reported this week.
According to Task and Purpose, the testing data that was obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) indicates that the F-35 variant’s “fully mission capable” rate — a key measure of a military aircraft’s readiness — collapsed from 12% in October 2016 to zero in December 2017 before remaining flat through 2018.
In addition to the Navy’s troubles, the Marine Corps’ F-35B has also experienced a lot of problems, Task and Purpose said, citing a POGO report.
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 below 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.
The fleet-wide sortie rates for the three F-35 variants POGO calculated from the 2017 report were extremely low, averaging between 0.3 and 0.4 sorties per day. During Operation Desert Storm, frontline combat aircraft including the F-15 and F-16 flew an average of at least one sortie per day, and the A-10 fleet averaged at least 1.4 sorties per day. Even under the pressure of recent Middle East combat deployment, the F-35’s rates have not improved. According to statements from the squadron commander, 6 F-35Bs onboard the USS Essex flew over 100 sorties in 50-plus days in the Middle East. In other words, each F-35B flew a third of a sortie per day—meaning they flew an average of once every three days—in sustained combat.
However, while the aircraft has experienced issues, the Marine Corps has still put their F-35B to the test, flying more than 100 combat missions against both the Taliban and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh).