The US Air Force is warning of operational readiness shortfalls for some aircraft as it counts the cost of losses and damage sustained during the Iraq war. Although aircraft equipment losses were few, battle damage and heavy usage extracted a huge toll on deployed units. One marine commander has said that 48 Bell AH-1 Cobra anti-tank helicopters alone required some level of depot repair during the conflict.

The US Navy is concerned about its Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft, which are expected to remain below pre-war availability rates for at least two years. The navy is seeking $85 million to replace scores of outer-wing panels and speed up production of new centre-wing sections for the fleet, says vice-chief of naval operations Adm Michael Mullen. The average age of the navy's EA-6Bs is 21 years.

Meanwhile, the US Marine Corps is not looking for direct replacements for six of the seven aircraft lost in combat in the war, choosing to wait for follow-on programmes, says Assistant Commandant Gen William Nyland.

Two Bell Boeing MV-22 Ospreys - due to be delivered in 2004 - will replace two crashed Boeing CH-46E Sea Knights, while a crashed Boeing AV-8B Harrier will be replaced by a Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Source: Flight International