Most USAF Mission-Capable Rates Dropped in 2021
Almost all of the U.S. Air Force’s fighters, mobility aircraft and bombers saw a reduction in their mission-capable rates in 2021 compared to the previous year.
The Air Force’s entire fleet had a mission-capable rate of 71.53% in fiscal 2021, a slight drop from 2020’s total rate of 72.74%. The rates are a snapshot of which aircraft are ready to perform their mission at a given time, and Air Force officials have said it is one way to look at overall readiness and does not reflect the service’s ability to surge aircraft if needed.
For example, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, Jr., in responses to senators’ questions in advance of his 2020 confirmation hearing, said the Air Force was moving beyond a 2018 directive from former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to raise fighter mission-capable rates to above 80% and instead was telling its major commands to determine their own mission-capable rate targets to meet their readiness objectives.
“While maintaining all of our aging fleets [is] difficult and expensive, we continuously examine emerging technologies, commercial best practices and other methods to reduce the sustainment costs for our Air Force,” Brown said.
The new figures come as the Air Force is calling on Congress to allow it to retire some of its older, poorer-performing aircraft and invest in new platforms and improving the readiness of key aircraft. The service in August announced a new force generation model, placing units into a 24-month cycle, broken down into four six-month phases, that will allow them to spend more time on maintenance and improving readiness.
“After nearly two decades of demanding rotational deployments, we are shifting to a model that builds high-end and sustainable readiness toward future missions by balancing elements of current availability, modernization and risk,” Brown said in announcing the new force generation model.
According to statistics provided to Aviation Week, about 56.74% of aircraft that break are fixed within 12 hr., down from 58.46% in 2020.
The Air Force’s bomber fleet saw a bigger drop when compared to other mission areas. Specifically, the B-1B Lancer’s rate of 40.69% is down from 2020’s 52.78%. This reduction comes as the Air Force retired 17 of the older, worst-performing bombers to focus on maintenance for the remaining 45 bombers. B-2s notched a rate of 58.58%, down from 62.41%, and B-52s dropped slightly to 59.45% from 60.51%.
Within the mobility fleet, the four main airlifters—C-5s, C-17s, C-130Hs and C-130Js—all saw slight drops, and two of the three tankers, KC-10s and KC-135s, also saw slight drops. The new KC-46 tanker saw an increase to 71.37%, up from 66.53%.
The entire fighter fleet reduced its readiness, with the F-22 remaining the least ready with a rate of 50.81%, slightly down from 51.98% the previous year.
The full list is in the following chart: