More than 80% of US Navy (USN) Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighters are currently deemed mission ready, a dramatic turnaround from significantly lower readiness rates reported less than a decade ago.

The navy had reached the 80% rate for the twin-engined fighter and the related EA-18G electronic-warfare variant in 2019. But the service has been able to maintain its 80%-readiness target, service officials said earlier this month. 

On 3 August, those officials touted the jets’ continued high mission-ready rate, which comes after the USN for several years pursued a concerted effort to improve readiness for an aircraft it describes as the “backbone” of its fighter fleet.


Source: US Navy

US Navy Super Hornets until recently fleet suffered from precariously low readiness levels, owing to budget restrictions, high operational demands and an outdated maintenance system

The 80% mission-readiness rate contrasts sharply with the reality just a few years earlier. In 2017, fewer than 50% of the navy’s F/A-18s and EA-18s were ready to fly.

According to Cirium data, the USN had 416 E/F-model Super Hornets in active service at the start of 2023, and 152 EA-18Gs.

Senior leaders in the USN are heaping praise on one officer – Captain Jason Denney – for overseeing the change.

Denney took command of the navy’s F/A-18 and EA-18G programme office in 2019. Known as PMA-265, the office manages acquisition, delivery and sustainment of the two aircraft for the service. The year earlier, then-defence secretary James Mattis had mandated that all fighter types in the US inventory achieve readiness rates of 80% or greater before the US government’s fiscal year 2019 ended in September of that year.

During Denney’s tenure, which concluded on 3 August, the USN F/A-18 programme office rolled out a series of reforms called the Naval Sustainment System-Aviation (NSS-A) – a programme meant to address maintenance failings and to help the service meet the 80% goal.

The navy describes NSS-A as a “data-informed” framework that seeks to “increase spare parts, enhance capability and maintain aircraft at a faster rate”. The improved logistics system, combined with increasing defence budgets in recent years and an end to most active-combat operations in the Middle East, appear to have produced results.

Speaking at the 3 August ceremony in which Denney handed over command of PMA-265, Vice Admiral Francis Morley praised the Super Hornet pilot’s role in the transformation, noting the F/A-18 was the only platform to reach the 80% readiness target by the end of FY2019.

Denney “pioneered the NSS-A model, and this year surpassed full-mission capable readiness rates for the first time in the history of the programme”, Morely says.

The uniformed advisor to the assistant secretary of the navy for research, development and acquisition also notes the NSS-A changes reduced the per-aircraft maintenance cost by half for each F/A-18.

In written remarks, secretary of the navy Carlos Del Toro says Denney was “instrumental” in developing the new sustainment framework, which is now being used across the navy.

The improvements in F/A-18 readiness appear to be lasting. The navy first reported surpassing the 80% threshold in 2019, and senior admirals at the 2023 Sea Air Space conference April confirmed publicly that 372 Super Hornets were mission capable at the time.

USN “air boss” Vice Admiral Kenneth Whitesell, commander of naval air forces, at the time described that figure as “a record for us”.