The Navy is in a race against the clock to keep enough fighter jets in the air to support deployments and train troops at home, forcing expensive and time-consuming maintenance that will continue into 2016.
With F/A-18C Hornets staying online years past their originally planned sundown, and F/A-18E-F Super Hornets rapidly approaching their 6,000 flight-hour limits, aviation leadership is working to keep the aging airframes in service while it waits for reinforcements in the form of the F-35C Lightning II.
The Navy will be ready to deploy with joint strike fighters by 2018, according to the most recent calculations, but that is several years behind original plans.
To make up for the lost time, the Navy has been burning through the 6,000-hour airframe lives of its Hornets and Super Hornets, pushing their use into the 2020s for the Hornets and perhaps as far as 2040 for the Super Hornets.
"As I think about the continuity of strike fighter inventory management, I have to consider the idea that — just like the F/A-18C, which we had planned to sundown at 6,000 hours and now we're extending to 10,000 hours — that applies to the Super Hornet," Air warfare director Rear Adm. Mike Manazir told Navy Times in November.
Dozens of F/A-18Cs have been pushed through maintenance depots in the past few years, and that will continue in 2016, extending their maximum flying hours to 10,000.
Meanwhile, testing and development on the F-35C continues, said a Naval Air Forces spokeswoman.
The airframe had its first carrier launches and traps in 2015, and those trials will continue in 2016, with testing of capabilities and as well as equipment, including the jet's weapons and the pilots 360-degree-view helmet.