Consistent with Washington’s increasingly saber-rattling rhetoric, the world’s largest military is putting its money where its mouth is. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has ordered the Air Force and Navy to increase their mission-capable rates for four major aircraft to 80 percent over the next twelve months, throwing the spotlight on the lamentable state of the nation’s airborne fleet. The mid-September memo was seen exclusively by Defense News.
The planes in question – the F-35, F-22, F-16 and F-18 – are currently in a dismal state of air-readiness. Last year, fewer than half the Air Force’s F-22s were mission-capable, and the notoriously expensive F-35 saw its first crash last month, just days after the fleet took to the air for the first time.
Military plane crash in Beaufort near Joe Allen Drive area. Appears to have crashed on a bluff/island owned by Clarendon Plantations. Not usually many people over there. Praying for the safety of all involved! pic.twitter.com/dM5a8v2lg1— Sam Richardson (@SamRichardsonAM) September 28, 2018
The Government Accountability Office was already warning of trouble in the skies in 2016, when it released a report on the flight readiness of 12 Navy and Air Force planes going back to 2011. The watchdog found that overall availability decreased for half the planes during that period, while nine of the 12 did not meet availability goals by 2016.
Problems have only gotten worse, however, according to numbers that the Air Force releases every year. Across the fleet, the average mission-capability declined 0.8 percent from 2016 to 2017; even this slight drop masks the dramatic decline experienced by individual models like the F-22, which lost 11.17 percent mission capability in just one year. From 2013 to 2017, aviation accidents increased 39 percent, according to an analysis by the Military Times.
Mattis acknowledges the “budget constraints and shortfalls in aviation squadrons” that contributed to “systematic underperformance, overcapitalization and unrealized capacity” in the fleets, but with the government passing the largest military spending bill in history, it’s uncertain what throwing even more money at the problem will accomplish. He has previously blamed the military’s lack of combat-readiness on Congress, even though the US spends more on its military than the next seven countries combined.
Citing the commercial aviation industry as his inspiration, Mattis has called for reducing fleet operation and maintenance costs over the coming year. It’s a logical goal, as more mission-capable planes mean fewer planes are required and fewer planes must therefore be purchased. Meanwhile, the Pentagon still plans to roll out the F-35 as the main fighter aircraft for all US military branches, costing the taxpayer a cool $350 billion.
Trump may have run for president on a platform of winding down the US’ costly forever-war in the Middle East, but since coming to power he’s surrounded himself with an unparalleled cadre of warmongers. “Mad Dog” Mattis looks like a pacifist next to Secretary of State Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, and dozens of additional billions are being pumped into the black hole that is US military spending.
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