Stealth Shortage: Does the Pentagon Have Enough F-35s to Test?

Stealth Shortage: Does the Pentagon Have Enough F-35s to Test?

Michael Peck

Security, United States

In June 2019, only 8.7 percent of the test fleet was rated “fully mission-capable,” according to a Department of Defense document obtained by the Project for Government Oversight, a non-governmental watchdog organization.

The Pentagon’s fleet of F-35 test aircraft lacks enough fully flyable planes.

In June 2019, only 8.7 percent of the test fleet was rated “fully mission-capable,” according to a Department of Defense document obtained by the Project for Government Oversight, a non-governmental watchdog organization.

“The 23 aircraft in the test fleet achieved an abysmal “fully mission capable” rate of 8.7 percent in June 2019 according to the chart, which covers December 2018 through mid-July 2019,” POGO said. “A fully mission capable aircraft can perform all of its assigned missions, a particularly important readiness measure for multi-mission programs such as the F-35. The June rate was actually an improvement over the previous month, when the fleet managed a rate of just 4.7 percent. Since the beginning of operational testing in December 2018, the fleet has had an average fully mission capable rate of just 11 percent.”

A 2017 Pentagon document indicated that a minimum of 80 percent is “needed to efficiently execute IOT&E [Initial Operational Test & Evaluation], especially for launching variant-specific four-ship flights for many of the mission trials.”

To be fair, with just twenty-three aircraft in the test pool, it would only take a few aircraft operational or not to swing the percentages. Still, if fewer than 10 percent of a twenty-three-plane pool is fully functional, then this means that full testing is limited to only a couple of aircraft.

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