The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that only a little more than half of the country’s F-35 fighter jets were “mission capable” as of March 2023.
In an expansive 96-page report released earlier this month, the investigative agency said the aircraft’s mission capable rate – or the percentage of time the warplane can effectively perform one of its tasks – was about 55 percent.
The figures were “far below” targets of 90 percent for the F-35A and 85 percent for both the B and C variants.
The office cited depot and organizational maintenance challenges as the major factors for the relatively low performance.
“The program was behind schedule in establishing depot maintenance activities to conduct repairs. As a result, component repair times remained slow with over 10,000 waiting to be repaired – above desired levels,” the GAO noted.
Additionally, the US military’s insufficient supply of F-35 spare parts and alleged overreliance on contractors contributed to the fleet’s low mission-capable rate.
The watchdog’s findings were published after an F-35B in service with the US Marine Corps suddenly went missing in South Carolina earlier this month.
The pilot ejected from the craft, but the service could not find it within the first 24 hours of searching.
The incident was considered a “Class-A” mishap, meaning the aircraft was destroyed or had property damage of $2.5 million or more.
In response, the US Marine Corps ordered a two-day stand down for all Marine aviation units to reassess aviation safety and best practices.
“During the safety stand down, aviation commanders will lead discussions with their Marines focusing on the fundamentals of safe flight operations, ground safety, maintenance and flight procedures, and maintaining combat readiness,” the service stated in a press release.
The GAO published several recommendations to improve the mission capability rate of American F-35s, including reassessing aircraft maintenance services.
It also said the F-35 Joint Program Office must decide whether the government or the contractor should assume primary responsibility for the warplane’s sustainment.
A final decision should be made immediately regarding the sustainment changes to be implemented.
The US Department of Defense concurred with all of the GAO’s recommendations.