The Navy is rolling out a new plan to tackle aviation maintenance, according to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday.
“We are also recapitalizing our aviation depot infrastructure,” Gilday said in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Through our Naval Aviation Fleet Infrastructure Optimization Plan (FIOP), we are developing a 10-year Master Plan that provides our aviation depots the capacity to sustain and modernize our aircraft, engines, components and support equipment.”
In June 2020 the General Accounting Office reported that an analysis of aggregate maintenance data revealed that Navy depots completed fixed-wing aircraft maintenance late in each of the six years from fiscal 2014 to FY19, “with percentages for on-time or early completion maintenance ranging from 45 to 63 percent.”
“Navy fixed-wing aircraft have spent over 62,000 more days in maintenance than expected since fiscal year 2014,” investigators wrote then.
Details on the new FIOP plan are sparse. But Gilday told lawmakers Tuesday he would share more information with them, including a schedule and details pertaining to the plan in next year’s fiscal budget.
The aviation maintenance overhaul comes as military aircraft across all the services have grappled with meeting mission-capable rates in recent years.
According to a November 2020 GAO report, the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force’s average mission-capable rates for their aircraft dropped between fiscal years 2011 and 2019. Only three out of 46 military aircraft met their mission-capable rates a majority of those years.
For example, the the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet did not meet its mission-capable rates any year between 2011 and 2019. Investigators found that the issues contributing to subpar mission-capable rates including delays in depot maintenance, shortage of trained maintenance personnel, obsolete parts, and parts shortages and delays, among other things.
But Gilday told lawmakers there has been improvement in recent years to boost the mission-capable rates of the Navy’s fighter jets.
“Deploying combat-ready forces starts with taking expert care of our platforms,” Gilday said. “To this end, we are using data-driven reforms to improve maintenance processes, increase operational availability, and save taxpayer dollars. We have seen tremendous success with these methods in our aviation community.”
“For years our F/A-18 aircraft were stuck at a 55 percent mission-capable rate. At the time, we assumed only an increase in inputs — aircraft, manpower, or parts — could raise the number of ready jets available to our pilots,” Gilday wrote. “However, in FY19 we shifted our focus to cultural reform and used the power of data-analytics to raise our F/A-18E/F mission capable rate to 80 percent — a rate we have continued to maintain throughout all of FY20 and into FY21.”
In September 2018, then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued a memo ordering the Navy and Air Force to get mission-capable rates for four key tactical aircraft, including the F/A-18 Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler, above 80 percent within one year, a daunting challenge given the readiness rates of America’s fighter fleets at the time.
While the GAO report acknowledged that the Navy did hit 80 percent mission-capable rates at times in FY19, investigators determined that the F/A-18 Super Hornet and the EA-18G Growler did not achieve “the mission capable goal when mission capable rate data were averaged for each day in fiscal year 2019.”