The Marine Corps’ version of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 fighter demonstrated poor reliability in a 12-day exercise at sea, according to the U.S. military’s top testing officer.
Six F-35Bs, the most complex version of the Pentagon’s costliest weapons system, were available for flights only half of the time needed, Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational testing, said in a memo obtained by Bloomberg News. A Marine Corps spokesman said the readiness rate was more than 65 percent.
While the exercise on the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp resulted in useful training for Marines and Navy personnel, Gilmore wrote in the assessment dated July 22, it also documented that “shipboard reliability” and maintenance “were likely to present significant near-term challenges.”
The Navy/Marine Corps internal standard is 75% mission capable rate.
Poor mission capable rates are actually fairly common in any new aircraft, for a couple of reasons. First, while this set of sea trials was heavily supported with spares, early service means maintainers are unlikely to know which spares tend to be needed and when. Second, the learning curve for maintainers is awfully steep early on. The best practices and techniques for keeping a jet “up” haven’t been learned or widely disseminated.
We don’t know if the F-35 will be a perpetual hangar queen, or if the MMH/FH (Maintenance Man Hours/Flight Hours) will be high or low compared to the AV-8B or F/A-18. But one should look at this report in the context that virtually all aircraft programs have these issues early in their service lives.