Navy officials last week told a House panel that fighter aircraft are increasing mission capable (MC) rates in line with former Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ 2018 directive.

In September, Mattis issued a memo to the Secretaries of the Army, Air Force, and Navy, Under Secretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, and Under Secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness directing them to meet a minimum 80 percent mission capability rates starting in FY 2019 Navy and Air Force F-35s, F-22s, and F-18s.

A Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet. Photo: Boeing.

At the time, about 50 percent of the Navy Super Hornets were not mission capable.

The Navy’s director of air warfare, Rear Adm. Scott Conn, told the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee on Thursday that the Navy has gotten F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet MC rates range between 63 and 76 percent. He called this a “volatile stock market” with the highs getting higher and the lows not getting as low as before but overall “the vectors are going in the right direction.”

Conn noted the specific numbers are “a snapshot in time on a given day, and they fluctuate in between.”

“We need to understand what is causing that variance, fix what we can to maximize the peaks, minimize the valleys, and keep the vector going in the right direction,” Conn added.

He said the Navy has achieved this improvement by inviting industry to assess the Navy’s processes at their squadrons, depots in California, and intermediate activities.

The Navy has reduced planned maintenance intervals (PMIs) for Super Hornets from 120 to 60 days.

“Not only did we cut it in half, the quality of the product that’s coming out of that PMI event is that much better and the aircraft is flying within a week from that PMI event, in some cases 4 days,” Conn said.

At an event last December, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said when he joined the administration naval aviation readiness overall was around 41 percent. He noted a newly hired former Southwest Airlines [LUV] maintenance official helped turn around the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet lines, increasing throughput by 40 percent in 10.5 weeks (Defense Daily, Dec. 14, 2018).

Conn added the service is also trying to reduce 84-day inspections to three days and he wants to treat the “artisans” that do the PMIs and repair parts akin to surgeons.

“Surgeons don’t leave the patient and don’t leave the operating room in the middle of procedure. You plan the event. You know the resources you require and you keep the artisan focused on that effort,” Conn said.

The Program Executive Officer (PEO) for the F-35 program also reported improvements on the F-35s by variant.

Vice Adm. Mathias Winter said his program’s snapshot of F-35 mission capable rates finds the F-35A Air Force variant at 61 percent, F-35B short take-off and vertical landing variant at 64 percent, and the F-35C carrier variant at 84 percent.

“When we deploy and we provide afloat spares packages and deploy packages – those mission capability rates average between 65 and 85 percent as you move forth,” he said.

Winter explained the program has “identified the root causes and the levers needed to ensure the availability and the mission capability rates for the F-35.”

His office found they need larger spare parts inventories on the flight line, making sure it has the capacity to repair parts or accelerate depot stand ups in the U.S., and push flight line maintenance to warfighters on the flight line.

Previously, maintainers had to send parts back to the manufacturer for repair or order additional parts. Now, maintainers are getting more spare parts and are authorized to fix parts on the flight line.

A Marine Corps F-35B lands on the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1),. (Photo: U.S. Navy )

In December, John Pendleton, director of defense capabilities and management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told a Senate panel the F-35 80 percent mission capable goal would be difficult to achieve because it requires consistent and clear definitions. He also noted mission capable is a lower standard than fully mission capable, which includes the ability to perform all high-end mission by an aircraft (Defense Daily, Dec. 14, 2018).

Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation, noted at the Thursday hearing that unlike in the past the services are now computing F-35 costs the same.

While previously different services computed F-35 costs differently, in the last year the services, F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), and Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office “are all on the same sheet of music when it comes to those criteria that were included for the cost.”