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F/A-18 and EA-18 reach 80% mission capability as F-35 struggles

The US Navy’s (USN) Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler have surpassed an 80% mission capability rate, complying with a directive set by former defense secretary Jim Mattis last year.

But the USN’s premier fighter aircraft, the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II carrier variant, will not reach the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) 80% goal, the USN announced on 24 September.

Defense secretary Mark Esper told the US Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing in July that was partly the result of transparency (canopy) supply shortages, among other issues.

The USN says the mission capability rate for the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G was at about 50% last year. An 80% rate translates into 343 mission-capable F/A-18E/F fighters and 95 mission-capable EA-18G fighters, says the service.

Mattis in 2018 had called for US fighter and strike aircraft to exceed an 80% capability rate by September 2019.

Asset Image

F/A-18E Super Hornet launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln

USN

Mission capability rates are the percent of fleets able to perform at least one assigned mission over a period of time. The rate is important as it gives the DOD a rough understanding of how ready any fleet of aircraft is to conduct combat missions.

The USN says it boosted mission capability rates by borrowing best practices from the commercial industry, which resulted in better maintenance practices. Esper said in his hearing that those reforms included periodic inspections, adding extra maintenance personnel, improving the process for component production and bettering supply chain data collection and circulation.

The US Air Force’s (USAF) Lockheed Martin F-16 is also expected to reach a mission capability rate of 80%.

In addition to the USN’s F-35C, the USAF’s F-35A conventional variant and US Marine Corps’ F-35B short take-off and landing variant are expected to miss the mission capability rate goal. So too, is the USAF’s fleet of Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors, which are suffering from lack of low-observable maintenance capacity, made worse by damage at Tyndall Air Force Base from the effects of Hurricane Michael in October 2018, said Esper.

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