A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II from Eielson AFB, Alaska, taxis at Kadena Air Base, Japan, before take-off in support of integrated air operations on Feb. 21 (Photo: U.S. Air Force)
While the overall mission capable (MC) rate of the Lockheed Martin F-35 is around 60 percent, forward military detachments have seen MC rates of more than 80 percent, including more than 87 percent in Europe over the past six months, as U.S. and foreign F-35s patrol the theater as part of the NATO response to Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Lockheed Martin says that it has delivered more than 825 F-35s thus far, and that number is to nearly double in the next five years–a ramping up that the company says will require a focus on best sustainment practices.
“When we think about the training aircraft versus those aircraft that are deploying on detachments, our aircraft overall–about 60 percent are mission capable,” Audrey Brady, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of F-35 sustainment, told reporters on Aug. 31 at a briefing at the company’s Global Vision Center in Arlington, Va. “When you’re looking at those detachments and really focusing on those aircraft, they’re over 80 percent.”
In January this year, the F-35 Joint Program Office said that maintenance man hours per flight hour (MMH/FH) were 4.79 for the F-35A, 7.48 for the U.S. Marine Corps’ F-35B, and 7.55 for the U.S. Navy F-35C. Those numbers represented improvements from November 2018 when MMH/FH was 6.01 for the F-35A, 8.23 for the F-35B, and 7.81 for the F-35C, the JPO said.
On Aug. 31, Lockheed Martin said that MMH/FH rates were 3.8 for the F-35A, 7.7 for the F-35B, and 6.5 for the F-35C. The program ceiling is nine MMH/FH.
Reducing cure times for parts’ adhesives on the F-35 “from a 24-hour period to 8 or less has really improved the maintenance man hours per flight hour and improved the availability of the aircraft,” Brady said.
Lockheed Martin said that the three F-35 variants have also been meeting mean flight hour between failure requirements–six mean flight hours between failure for an F-35A and four such hours for the F-35B and the F-35C. The rate measures how long parts stay on the aircraft before having to be removed.
On Aug. 31, Lockheed Martin said that greater than 90 percent of the more than 49,000 parts on the F-35 are performing better than predicted and that the F-35A has 11.8 mean flight hours between failure, while the F-35B has 6.5 such hours and the F-35C 9.2.
It seems unclear why F-35 MC rates are not significantly higher than 60 percent, given that data on the F-35 indicate that it is satisfying the MMH/FH and mean flight hour between failure requirements.
“The global fleet mission capable rates include test and training aircraft and are the result of many factors including reliability and maintainability performance, along with fleet management decisions,” Lockheed Martin said. “We continue to partner with the Joint Program Office to increase readiness across the fleet to support the warfighter.”
It appears that the Air Force is moving away from its former goal of achieving a $25,000 cost per flying hour goal for the F-35A by 2025. In February last year, Air Force Gen. Mark Kelly, the head of Air Combat Command, said that he was “not brimming with confidence” about reaching that goal (Defense Daily, Feb. 26, 2021).
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., said this week that the Air Force’s future focus for the F-35A would be cost per tail per year (CPTPY).
Lockheed Martin says that it is responsible for 40 percent of the aircraft’s costs and that the cost per flying hour (CPFH) goal was in 2012 dollars. Unlike earlier, fourth generation aircraft, the F-35 must factor in operations and maintenance costs for onboard advanced systems, including infrared search and track; automated sensor fusion; electronic warfare; and electro-optical/distributed aperture system, Lockheed Martin said.
“The CPTPY decreased between 2020 and 2021 in both TY$M [total year millions of dollars] and CY12$M [calendar year 2012 millions of dollars,” the F-35 JPO said on Sept. 1. “In CY12$M, we see this decrease at the DoD level and for all services/variants.”
“We expect CPTPY and CPFH to continue decreasing through 2024 and then expect a relative stabilization based on recent estimates,” the JPO said.
Section 141 of the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps to set new affordability targets for the F-35 using cost per tail per year.