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Does the US Air Force Have a ‘Mission Capable’ Problem?

Mission Capable
Image: Creative Commons.

Following progress in 2020, mission capable rates dropped in 2021 for most Air Force fighters, Air Force Magazine reported this week.

This was true, in fact, for every fighter with the exception of the A-10 Warthog.

The magazine defines “mission capable rates” as “a common measure of readiness and relate to an aircraft’s ability to perform at least one of its core missions.” This is not to be confused with “full mission capable rates,” which were not provided.

“The declines are noteworthy even though the Air Force has sought to de-emphasize the rates and instead focus on unit readiness as a more accurate way to evaluate combat capability,” the magazine said. “Also noteworthy is that 2020’s gains were achieved at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when greater restrictions were placed on the physical proximity of workers in backshops and depots.”

For the F-35A, the rate declined year-over-year from 76.07 percent to 68.8 percent, which the magazine attributed to several F-35s undergoing engine overhauls. However, the 2021 number was higher than the 61.6 percent in 2019.

The F-15E fleet, meanwhile, saw its score drop from 69.21 percent in fiscal 2021 to 66.24 percent. The F-15C and D rates fell too, with the C model dropping from 71.93 percent to 69.48 percent. The D model, meanwhile, dropped 70.52 percent to 68.56 percent year over year.

The scores for the F-16C and D fleet also dropped. The C model went from 73.9 percent to 71.53 percent, while the D model went from 72.11 percent to 69.32 percent.

As for the F-22, its rate was 50.81 percent this year, down a percentage point from 2020, which the magazine attributed to both parts obsolesce and “challenges caring for the jet’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.”

How did the A-10s do so well?

“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 A-10 is generally less sophisticated than the other fighters, with fewer sensor systems, and its maintainers are generally more experienced, as most Warthogs belong to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve,” Air Force Magazine said.

The magazine added that during his tenure at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary James Mattis “ordered the Air Force and Navy to raise MC rates for fighter aircraft to 80 percent,” although the Air Force fell short of that goal. General Charles Brown, USAF chief of staff, told a Congressional committee in May 2020, that the Air Force had “ dropped that readiness goal,” per Aviation Geek Club.

 Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

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