Home » Aviation » SECDEF Mattis Wants 80 Percent of Super Hornets Mission Capable by Next Year

SECDEF Mattis Wants 80 Percent of Super Hornets Mission Capable by Next Year

Airman Louis Calderon wipes down the window of an F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the “Fighting Checkmates” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 211 on the flight deck aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) on June 2, 2018. US Navy Photo

Pentagon leadership has set an aggressive timeline to improve the health of the Navy’s strike fighter force, according to a new directive from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis obtained by USNI News.

The Navy’s fleet of F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets will have to meet a minimum 80-percent mission capable rate by the end of Fiscal Year 2019, according to a Sept. 17 memo sent from Mattis to military service secretaries and other Defense Department civilian leaders.

“Our department faces budget constraints and shortfalls in aviation squadrons across the force. As a result, our aviation inventory and supporting infrastructure suffer from systemic underperformance, overcapitalization and unrealized capability,” read the memo.
“We must focus on meeting our most critical priorities first. These include achieving a minimum of 80 percent mission capability rates for our FY 2019 Navy and Air Force F-35, F-22, F-16 and F-18 inventories — assets that form the backbone of our tactical air power — and reducing these platforms operating and maintenance costs every year, starting in FY 2019.”

Defense News broke news of the memo on Tuesday.

The Navy defines an aircraft as mission capable, or partially mission capable, as an aircraft that is safely flyable and can perform at least one but not all of its missions, according to a 2017 Naval Air Forces memo.

Due in large part to the stress on the Hornet fleet in support of ground operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the mission capable rate of the Navy’s strike fighter inventory has been on the decline since 2012.

In 2012, the rates for the legacy F-18C Hornets was about 55 percent of the inventory, while the rate for the E and F Super Hornets was at 56 and 55 percent respectively, according to Navy aviation readiness data obtained by USNI News.

That number has fallen to 44 percent readiness for the Hornets and 49 and 46 percent for the E and F Super Hornets as of early September, according to Navy aviation readiness data.

The latest combined Super Hornet readiness number was at 53.3 percent, Naval Air Forces spokesman Cmdr. Ron Flanders told USNI News on Tuesday. The Navy’s operational force is now all Super Hornets, with the legacy Hornets relegated to reserve squadrons.

Prior to Mattis’s memo, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson had set a goal of a 75-percent mission capable rate for Navy aircraft, or about 341 Super Hornets. That goal was not bounded by a time frame, USNI News understands.

An official at the Program Executive Officer Tactical Aircraft Programs (PEO(T)) acknowledged to USNI News on Tuesday the service had received the new targets and was working to figure out how to execute the goal.

In August, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer praised the progress on a backlog of Hornet and Super Hornet depot maintenance that had been previously stalled.

“We added 29 fully mission capable Super Hornets since Jan. 1 of 2018, bringing the fleet to 270 up from 241,” he told reporters on Aug. 7.

The responsibility for aviation readiness is now directly in the hands of the commander of Naval Air Forces Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, Spencer said at the time.

Last week, Miller said his command was focused on the new Pentagon strategy of moving forces beyond the low-intensity ground conflicts that defined the last 18 years of war.

“We’re [now] all about great power competition and fighting at the high-end,” he said at the Maritime Security Dialogue, sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

To that end, Miller said readiness assessments moving forward will be geared to a focus on that high-end mission.
“I either have an airplane that’s ready to fight or not,” he said.

A request for additional information on how the Navy will meet the goal was acknowledged by a Naval Air Forces spokesman on late Tuesday but not immediately responded to.

  • DaSaint

    Good target!

  • RunningBear

    Ending sequestration and providing the money for the required spare parts for repairs will enable the maintenance resources to achieve the goal, provided the timeline/manhours are realistic!
    Fly Navy

    • llewellynh

      Would help to assure people that those spares are completely made in the US with US components. The original F-18’s certainly were.

      • RunningBear

        Usually required by govt. contracts and now insisted upon by the office of the President!
        Fly Navy

      • wilkinak

        Assuming that other gov’t agencies actually allow production in the US. EPA isn’t terribly friendly to things like ordnance production.

  • RobM1981

    Why, can’t the F-35 shoulder its share of the load? It’s only been flying for eighteen years…

    • RunningBear

      The 320+ F-35s are mostly in training and testing squadrons; with the tactical squadrons at; 2 USAF F-35A at Hill AFB, 3 USMC F-35B at MCAS Yuma, 1 USN F-35C at NAS Lemoore. The US govt. requires an independent IOT&E for each major program and the F-35 begins it’s review this month, Oct18 for approx. 12mths. and a recommendation for full production late 2019. The USMC has two F-35B squadrons VMFA-121 in Japan with USS Wasp and VMFA-211 on board the USS Essex in the northern Arabian Sea (recent attack support in southern Afghanistan).

      Fly Navy

  • Duane

    It’s amazing that this wasn’t the operating standard all along. What is the point of having aircraft that can’t fly?

    • Masau80

      That has always been the standard – it just takes money to reach it. Sequestration and the flat budget over the past 8-10 years ensured that there were never enough dollars to sustain aircraft readiness across the force – so the decision was to put all the resources towards the deploying units, at the expense of training and lower priority units. The Fleet Replacement Squadrons (FRS) have had numerous jets that have been parked on the line for years, wrapped in preservation foil, because there was no money to fix them.

      • Duane

        First of all, sequestration has been overridden for the last four years. Second of all, it is the Navy’s choice, with Congressional authorization, whether to spend limited funds on maintaining what they have vs. building new aircraft and ships. It is a conscious decision by the government to let the many tens of billions of dollars of paid-for aircraft to go to waste.

        Navy leaders and Congress allowed this to happen – it did not happen by accident or due to sequestration, which has been the convenient excuse for all sorts of things that have little to nothing to do with sequestration.

        • Masau80

          Like you said – it was the Navy’s choice, with Congressional authorization, whether to spend limited funds on maintaining what they have vs. building new aircraft. Sequestration limited the overall amount of $$ and the decision was made by the Navy to ensure that the Combatant Commanders had all the tools they required for the mission. Now there is money to do both – and to play some catch-up on maintenance. With that also comes more flight hours, which enhances readiness, and aides in pilot retention.

          • Duane

            With or without sequestration as a convenient excuse, choosing between maintaining what we have vs. buying more new stuff is a permanent decision process that will never go away. No matter how much funding our military gets, it is perfectly capable of wasting it, or mis-prioritizing it, and not getting the proper balance right.

            For instance, there comes an inflection point in the ops cost-age curve for any platform or weapons system at which its utility is less than the cost to maintain it. Shoving more and more dollars at a poor cost-benefit proposition is just throwing good money after bad. Throw out the old and by all means buy the new.

            But there is never a good excuse for one half (today) or even as many as 2/3 of our aircraft fleet to be non-flyable (as it was less than one year ago). There is some combination of getting rid of the oldest “hangar queen” aircraft that aren’t worth keeping, and ensuring that we are properly prioritizing maintenance funding as required to get to and sustain 80% mission capability of the cost-effective newer aircraft

            Same thing applies to ships too.

          • Masau80

            It is not about buying new airplanes. The Navy has ALL the Super Hornets they want (either on the ramp, or in the production/POM pipeline). The issue has been about maintenance vs. operational requirements. The parked jets aren’t old, they are just broke and awaiting parts – which the Navy hasn’t been able to buy for several years. Now they can. The only ships that are glued to the pier are the newest ones that are delivered broken (DDG-1000 and LCS) – the Navy isn’t clamoring for them to get fixed because they don’t have a blue water mission.

          • Duane

            No – the LCS are the opposite of pier queens, they are very heavily used at sea. There haven’t been any of the so-called engineering casualties (that were mostly training casualties) for years.

            And we DO have an issues with old, heavily used aircraft. That’s why the Navy has been buying dozens of new fighters every year. Over the last five years the Navy got rid of all their old 80s vintage Hornets, relegating them to reserve units, that required purchasing new Super Hornets. The older Super Hornets have had to be sent to the depot for full SLEP rebuilds, to add another 3,000 flight hours of life, because they were so heavily used over the last 17 years of air support missions in our middle eastern wars. The F-35Cs are just starting to come into the fleet, but only a handful so far.

          • Masau80

            The Navy replaced all the legacy Hornets on schedule – as always planned. The didn’t slough them off to reserve squadrons (only one left – VFA-204) who have always flown legacy Hornets. The Navy has transferred a significant number of legacy Hornets to the Marines to sustain their VMFA squadrons until the F-35 is delivered in numbers. The Marines purposefully did not want the E/F, as they assumed the F-35 would be delivered as promised. The Super Hornet was designed for a certain airframe life. When they were designed, they never were envisioned to also have to be the tankers for the CVW. That role accounts for 40% of the flight hours on deployed CVW E/F squadrons. The process to add 3000 hours to each airframe will sustain airframe availability until the final mix of F-35 and E/Fs is reached. As the MQ-25 comes online, the flight hour burn on the E/Fs will decrease dramatically.

            As for the LCS – they spend months at a time tied to the pier due to maintenance issues, and are not, nor ever will be a component of either a CSG, or an ARG – hence no blue water value.

        • vetww2

          RIGHT ON

      • Fred Gould

        I remember the same back in the 70’s

  • b2

    Glad to see SECDEF himself setting the bar to bring this TACAIR jet pipeline under control. AWP downs are only part of it at the O-level. this has been going on since even before sequestration.. Remember the Strike Fighter Gap 8-9 years ago?

    Only way out is a massive transfusion of money OMN type- Depot capacity capability is critical. Deferred maintenance due to operational can-do, means more corrosion, means more man hours to fix during the period at the depot. Add in ECPs like SLEPs. etc and you have a log jam. What was called a hollow force 35 years ago…

    Need to increase available funding and industrial capacity (both govmint & commercial sector) to achieve what he asks. 3d printing and process fixes/talk won’t hack it. Problem is everyone in positions of leadership and management grew up with this huge issue the past 10 or more years…Are they capable of correcting their own neglect?

  • Refguy

    I’d be more impressed if the goal was FMC instead of MC.

  • hollygreen9

    :oys of luck on that one Bring back the Intruder,

  • vetww2

    This is too politically contravesal. Let’s start from NOW. It is most important that it is recognized and fixable. All else is Commentary.