Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Real Aircraft Readiness Rates

I’m sure you all recall the memo issued by then Secretary of Defense Mattis in Sep 2018 that mandated that F-35 and F-18 aircraft would achieve readiness rates of 80% or greater by the end of 2019 (see, “You Will Comply”)?  How did that work out?  Well, in a miracle for the ages, less than 6 months after that memo was issued the Navy reported that Super Hornet readiness had jumped from the 50% mark, where it had been mired for several years due to parts shortages, personnel shortages, and other systemic problems, to as high as 76% despite all the same problems still existing.  Did that seem plausible?  Of course not.  Systemic problems don’t disappear in less than 6 months and huge backlogs of idled aircraft don’t suddenly become ready.  It was obvious that someone was playing reporting games and manipulating the data.


Still, the Navy continued to report high readiness rates, claiming to have exceeded the 80% mark.(2)


Here’s what I posted when the Navy announced their miraculous improvement:


Years of maintenance manpower shortages, higher than expected corrosion and problems, chronic spare parts shortages, depot backlogs, funding shortages, etc., all cured in less than 6 months by a single memo. 


Do you think readiness is unchanged and we’re just pencil-whipping and gun-decking the readiness reports?  Before you answer, consider all the Navy fraudulent statements and practices (lapsed certifications, acceptance trial waivers, fraudulent shock trial success claims, and hundreds of other examples) that we’ve exposed on this blog alone.  Now, let me repeat the question … Do you really think readiness surged that much in 5 months or less or is it unchanged and the Navy is just pencil-whipping the readiness reports? (1)



The GAO has now come out with a report on military aircraft readiness and it confirms what ComNavOps knew to be true – that the Navy was falsifying readiness reports.


The table below shows the GAO’s data for readiness of Navy aircraft during the 9 year period FY2011 - FY2019, inclusive.  GAO assessed readiness by comparing the aircraft’s mission capable rate (MCR) to the MCR goal established by the Navy.  Unfortunately, the MCR goals for each aircraft have been withheld from the GAO report as the information is considered sensitive.  Typically, MCR goals are on the order of 70%.


Note:  Mission Capable is the ability to perform any one of the aircraft’s notional missions.  This is the lowest possible form of readiness.  Fully Mission Capable is the highest level of readiness and the only one that we should be using – an aircraft is either ready to fly any mission or it is not ready.  MCR is often little more than the ability to take off and is of no use in assessing true combat readiness.




Number of Years Readiness Goal Was Met

F/A-18A-D (Navy)

1 of 9

F/A-18E-F (Navy)

0 of 9

F-35C (Navy)

2 of 7

F-35B (Marine)

1 of 7

F/A-18A-D (Marine)

0 of 9





Note that the Navy claimed that the Super Hornet readiness had exceeded 80% for the Super Hornet which would have likely easily surpassed whatever its readiness goal is.  Despite this, GAO, with access to real data, found that the Super Hornet never exceeded its goal. 


From the GAO report which addressed the SecDef Mattis memo and the Super Hornet and F-35 readiness,


We found that none of these aircraft had achieved the 80 percent mission capable  goal … (3, p.11)


The Navy publicly reported in late September 2019 that it had met the Secretary’s 80 percent mission capable goal for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler. Our analysis showed that mission capable rates generally did improve for these Navy systems over the course of fiscal year 2019, including meeting the 80 percent mission capable rate at particular points of time in fiscal year 2019. However, we found that none

of these aircraft achieved the mission capable goal when mission capable rate data were averaged for each day in fiscal year 2019. (3, p.12)



There you have it, the real readiness rates and they’re the same as they’ve always been – not ready!






(1)Navy Matters blog, “You Will Comply”, 10-Apr-2020


(2)USNI News website, “Navy Surpasses 80% Aircraft Readiness Goal, Reaches Stretch Goal of 341 Up Fighters”, Megan Eckstein, 25-Sep-2019,


(3)Government Accountability Office, “Weapon System Sustainment”, GAO-21-101SP, Nov 2020


  1. Someone once said, "You don't get to be CNO by telling the truth."

  2. It seems they have the same problem communist countries have. When a quota or goal must be met or heads will roll, it will be met whether or not it is physically possible.

    The only answer I see helping is to have an independent group that is free of command interference due the inspections. Have the inspectors give the results directly to congress, then to the chain of command. This will prevent some of the interference.

    1. Independent analysis is only way to clean up the mess. I remember when I thought Officers were honorable folks to be trusted.... But sadly that doesnt seem to be the case.

    2. Most organizations suffer from this. And piling on what CDR Chip said, not one ever got promoted for saying "I told you so". The current leadership myth is that the leader is an "innovator" and a "visionary" who "disrupts" the current moribund organization into continually increasing performance. If you push back and point out problems, you are seen a troublemaker, having a negative attitude and being an obstacle to success.

      I call this a leadership myth because history has shown the effective leaders solicit negative feedback and welcome constructive challenges to their thinking.

      Consider the difference between Nimitz and King in WWII. As Dan van der Vat states, Nimitz could have done King's job but King could not have done Nimitz's job.

  3. Poor management and blame others for their own failure.

    Tell an airline that it lacks parts and shortage of labor so many of its fleet need to be grounded. If nothing changes in a short time, its CEO will be FIRED.

  4. SECNAV should fire NAVAIR commander. This is straight up falsification.

  5. CNO just to wish you a happy new year and express my thanks for the work you put in running your site and appear the only advocate of bringing realism to navy matters :)

    1. Thank you. I'll try my best to continue providing informative and, occasionally, entertaining posts!

    2. Ill second that Nick!!
      Having been here for years (!!!) now, your continuous pace of great posts is truly admirable!! Im lucky to have the time to read every one(but I do!)!!!
      Happy New Year CNO...
      Wishing battleships and gun cruisers and 95% readiness to everyone!!!šŸ˜⚓

    3. Definitely a shout out to ComNavOps for providing an informative and thought-provoking forum. And happy new year to you and to all who come here.

  6. Constant pencil whipping has a corrosive effect on ethics. Try and stand up to it and you get negative feedback. Every body knows that pencil whipping is encouraged from top down. The SecNav on down expects unethical behavior.

  7. The Marines achieved IOC in July 2015 (late FY14) for the F-35B and the Navy in February 2019 (mid FY18) for the F-35C. Why did the GAO grade them for readiness in the time before each achieved IOC?

    For FY18, the Marines had 58 Bs and the Navy had 28 Cs. The Air Force had the most with 134 As. When your fleet size is that small, every aircraft counts.

    1. GAO was looking at readiness, not IOC. The aircraft were around, being flown, and being maintained before IOC so why not report the readiness?

      One might debate the value of readiness before IOC but considering that they were using the lowest measure of readiness (basically, the ability to take off) and they couldn't meet their standards should tell us something regardless of whether it's before or after IOC.

    2. "One might debate the value of readiness before IOC"

      One also should debate the value of IOC as it stands today. I am puzzled by the purpose of attaining IOC if you don't take a step back and heed the learning of it. Many programs continuously miss IOC deadlines and doesn't that send a warning to people in charge? Many programs that CNO has documented announced IOC before they were operationally effective or sometimes outright useless. I thought IOC is the final barrier for change before you commit to FRP? Apparently,the F-35 program whether they declare it IOC or FOC is a moot point as they committed to Full Rate Production and continued with concurrency development anyway.

      Did IOC mean anything significant in the past? Maybe! But at it stands, they are best seen as milestones of how low we can stoop. I fully support the practice of GAO documenting everything as they are FOC. I suspect, we don't see much differences when these programs achieved "FOC".

  8. "GAO was looking at readiness, not IOC."

    I get where you're coming from. By the end of 2012, the Marines had a total of 16 F-35Bs with 13 of those assigned to a training squadron. And when your fleet size is so small, every aircraft counts. With that size of a fleet, losing 6 aircraft puts you below the 80 percent mark. At the same time, the Marines were in the early stages of learning how operate and maintain those aircraft.

    I'm not trying to make excuses for the Marines or the Navy. I guess I would make some sort of allowance for newer programs as opposed to mature programs with larger fleets and decades of experience.

    1. One might also bear in mind that the F-35 was designed, specifically, to improve maintenance by incorporating a massive maintenance, logistics, inventory, and planning program, ALIS, as an INTEGRAL part of the aircraft. Therefore, poor readiness rates on one aircraft or a thousand, pre-IOC or post-IOC, would indicate a programmatic failure and should have been a giant red warning flag for us. THAT'S why you track such things even before IOC.

      Conceptually, if you can't keep a brand new aircraft, with its attendant bounty of spare parts, legions of manufacturer tech support, zero wear on the aircraft, and nearly unlimited support budget at a high level of readiness, what will happen when the aircraft begin to rack up wear, spare parts become harder to obtain, the manufacturer's tech reps leave, and budgets return to normal? Again, THAT'S why you track readiness even before IOC.

      The pre-IOC readiness issues should have been telling us we had a major problem.

      We can always rationalize away problems with excuses like 'it's pre-IOC' but that's how problems that should have been decisively dealt with early on become insurmountable problems later.

    2. I'm not trying to make excuses for the Marines or the Navy. I guess I would make some sort of allowance for newer programs as opposed to mature programs with larger fleets and decades of experience.

      In new programs I would be inclined to be gentle about teething problems, gentle but proactive. The problem is that by the time the F-35 got to the fleet it was not even close to a new program. It was old enough to get drunk legally.

    3. "I would be inclined to be gentle about teething problems"

      All new programs have initial problems. The trick, and the challenge, is to be able to identify 'normal', isolated problems versus systemic problems.

      In the case of the F-35, if you're looking at 10-70 initial aircraft and you can't keep even half of them flying (early readiness problems suggested around 25% readiness or less) that's not a few isolated, initial problems. That's a programmatic failure and a cry for help.

      If you too readily excuse the problems, you wind up with a systemic mess down the road - which is exactly what happened with the F-35.

      Imagine if we had NOT dismissed the systemic F-35 problems and had, instead, cancelled the program early on. We'd now have supertanker loads of cash to spend on the next aircraft. Of course, one can always believe the next program will be just as bad - and it may well be if the program leaders aren't reading this blog - but we've got to hope for the best.

  9. An interesting thought comes across me today. One of the main benefits of multi-function aircraft is the variety of missions It can be called to perform presumably. If we measure the aircraft by its mission capable rate (quite possibly single function), wouldn't that mean we got a large amount of our fleet is single function aircraft? Even in logistics, the idea doesn't hold up!

    1. "One of the main benefits of multi-function aircraft is the variety of missions It can be called to perform presumably."

      But if it performs none of them well, what does that get you?

    2. Yes, another implied benefit is that the aircraft is capable of rapidly performing different missions. The A/C can sortie for a strike mission, land, be fueled, serviced and re-armed, and then be put up on CAP to deal with the enemy's counter-strike.

      And, along the lines of what CDR Chip says, what if the only mission it can perform is a strike mission in uncontested airspace with 2x 500 lb. iron bombs?


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