The Navy wants at least 60 percent of deployed aircraft to be fully mission capable, but since 2009 only about 40 percent of deployed aircraft are fully capable. But Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert said at a July 27 readiness subcommittee hearing that "overall, the Navy's readiness is acceptable." (MCS Rob Rupp / Navy)
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With campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan driving a high operational tempo, the Navy and Marine Corps have fallen short of meeting readiness goals for both deployed and stateside aircraft.
The services want at least 60 percent of deployed aircraft to be fully mission capable, but since 2009 only about 40 percent of deployed aircraft are fully capable. In the first quarter of fiscal 2011, the most recent data available, about 43 percent of deployed aircraft were fully mission-ready, a chart released by the House Armed Services Committee shows, up from a low of 41 percent in the second quarter of fiscal 2010. Nondeployed aircraft are also falling short of readiness goals.
"For our planes, only 45 percent were rated as fully mission-capable. Our target is 60 percent. When it's down to 40 percent, that ought to give us cause for concern," Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said in an interview.
"Yet in the budget sent over by the Pentagon to the president, we had a shortfall of almost $100 million in aircraft maintenance and logistics."
Forbes, chairman of the House Armed Service Committee's readiness subcommittee, has been scrutinizing readiness levels in all the services through hearings in July.
Forbes is particularly concerned about the $100 million aircraft maintenance shortfall that the Navy is facing and the effect it will have on mission capability rates.
His district includes parts of Hampton Roads, Va.
The Navy, however, says it is able to complete the missions it is tasked with.
"Overall, the Navy's readiness is acceptable," Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert said Wednesday at a readiness subcommittee hearing.
But that status may not last much longer, he said.
High operational tempo has caused more frequent deployments and longer times at sea. In turn, this has reduced training and maintenance availabilities across the fleet. Greenert, nominated to become the next CNO, said he doesn't know if the pace can be maintained much longer without impacting readiness.
"The stress on the force is real and it is relentless," he said.
The Navy has about 3,700 aircraft in its inventory.
Adding to the burden is the Navy's relatively new requirement to maintain two carrier strike groups in 5th Fleet for at least nine months out of the year.
Not all about the money
Aviation readiness isn't tied exclusively to the budget, Navy officials said.
"A combination of factors, not just funding, impact readiness and capability, which we closely monitor. Gaps in maintenance funding have the potential to place more workload on the fleet to move equipment in order to manage readiness and cannibalization rates," said Lt. Paul Macapagal, a Navy spokesman.
The capability rates the subcommittee evaluated are below goals, due in part to operations in several theaters at high op tempo, a changing emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan that lengthened supply lines, as well as other factors, said Capt. Mike Kelly, the force materiel officer at Naval Air Forces.
Additionally, the data the subcommittee is using isn't the best tool to assess full mission capability, Kelly said. For example, an electronic attack aircraft might be in a carrier hangar, in great shape, but isn't equipped with a jamming pod. For every half-hour it sits without that pod it technically doesn't count as "fully mission-capable," he said.
It's better to consider whether the aircraft is ready for a certain task, Kelly said.
"Do I have the aircraft? Do I have the mission sets? Do I have the required equipment? Do I have the required crew?" he asked. "We send each and every strike group with a complete set of assets. We've been solid doing that, and I can't think of any shortages when we're sending them to sea."
Kelly said he was unaware of any missions that had to be scrubbed because of a readiness issue. Forbes said he hasn't heard of anything, either, but he has had difficulty getting information from the Navy.
As things stand, the Navy is not meeting combatant commanders' "unconstrained" requirements — that would require about 400 ships, Greenert said.
The Navy, however, is meeting the demands once they have been through the Global Force Management Allocation Plan, he said.