Most USAF Fighter Mission Capable Rates Rise in Fiscal 2020, Led by F-35

The Air Force’s fighter fleet, led by the F-35A, turned in a better overall mission capable rate in 2020, even with limitations imposed by the pandemic, than it did in 2019, according to figures provided to Air Force Magazine. The F-35’s MC rates soared, and rates even improved for the F-15C, which the Air Force is anxious to divest because of its age. The F-15E’s MC rate declined, however.

“Mission capable” rates describe the percentage of jets in the inventory that are ready and available to do at least one of their assigned missions over a period of time. “Full mission capable” is a measure of how many aircraft in a fleet are ready to do their full complement of missions over that period.

The F-35A’s mission capable rate leaped from 61.6 percent in fiscal ’19 to 76.07 percent in FY ’20, according to Air Force figures. The program was helped largely by additional funding toward spare parts, a greater percentage of the fleet being of a more recent and less problem-prone vintage, and a greater number of depots being opened, Joint Program Office director Lt. Gen. Eric Fick told the House Armed Services Committee in April.

“Many of our earlier-lot aircraft require modifications, and we are working through retrofits with fleet customers to optimize the timing of these modifications to minimize operational impacts,” Fick said. “Government and industry teams are working to accelerate an affordable long-term solution” to F-35 readiness “while maximizing near-term F-35 availability for training and operations. These changes are driving a steady increase in aircraft full-mission capable rates, and we anticipate fleet availability will continue to climb as F-35 maintenance systems and best practices mature,” he said in testimony.

At the McAleese and Associates defense conference in mid-May, Fick said the sustainment cost of the F-35 is an “existential threat” to the program and that the effort to reduce it is his highest priority.


Fighters2019 Mission Capable Rate2020 Mission Capable Rate
Source: USAF

The F-15C and D fleets, which the USAF has described as urgently in need of replacement because they are flying beyond their planned service lives, turned in mixed results—MC rates of 71.93 percent and 70.52 percent, respectively. That was better than last year for the F-15C, when it achieved a 70.05 percent mission capable rate; and worse for the F-15D after achieving a 72.45 percent mission capable rate in fiscal 2019. The Air Force is buying the F-15EX to replace the F-15C/D, as the most expeditious way to replace capacity in its fighter fleet. The bulk of the F-15C/D fleet dates back to the 1980s and early 1990s.

The F-15E’s MC rate also fell, from 71.29 percent to 69.21 percent.

The F-16C and D fleets averaged MC rates of 73.90 percent and 72.11 percent, respectively; improving on the fiscal ’19 rates of 72.97 and 70.37 percent, respectively.

The F-22A scored only a slight improvement in fiscal 2020 over the previous year, with a rate of 51.98 percent versus 50.57 percent in FY’19. The Air Force recently signaled that it will begin phasing out the F-22 circa 2030 due to the small size of the fleet and its labor-intensive low observable systems.

The A-10, which is undergoing a re-winging program, scored an MC rate of 72.04 percent, a slight uptick from fiscal 2019’s 71.20 percent.

The Air Force was not immediately able to provide specifics as to why its MC rates had shifted.

Then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis directed the Air Force to reach an 80 percent MC rate on its F-15, F-16, and F-35 fleets by 2016, but the service did not achieve that goal, and has since assessed mission capability in broader terms pertaining to unit readiness.