"This has been a year of results for Naval aviation," Vice Adm. DeWolfe H. Miller, the head of the Naval Air Force, said in a Tuesday press release. "I am incredibly proud of our sailors, civilian teammates and industry partners.”
In September 2018, then-US Secretary of Defense James Mattis ordered the Air Force and Navy to improve the dismal combat readiness rates for their primary aircraft by the end of the fiscal year. That deadline is September 30, and the Navy’s F/A-18 fleet is more ready than ever.
Mattis’ order concerned the US Air Force’s F-16 and F-22 aircraft, the Navy’s F/A-18s and the F-35s operated by both services.
“For change to be effective and efficient, we must focus on meeting our most critical priorities first,” Mattis wrote in the September 2018 memo, Defense News reported at the time.
After nearly a decade of "regularly maintaining between 250-260 [mission-capable] F/A-18s, the Navy is now sustaining over 320 MC Super Hornets and surged to attain service goals of 341 MC Super Hornet and 93 MC Growler aircraft this month," the release said. At the time of Mattis’ order, their readiness stood at roughly 50%, Defense News noted.
"They developed and implemented the [Naval Sustainment System] and then drove readiness numbers that haven't been seen in over a decade," Miller said. "Their results are incredible, and their passion for improvement is inspirational."
The Navy has operated the McDonnell Douglas F-18 since 1984 alongside other carrier-based aircraft, but in the 2000s moved to make the Hornet its primary carrier aircraft, upgrading it to replace jets with specialized roles like the EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare plane and the ship-hunting S-3 Viking, which were replaced by the EA-18G Growler and new weaponry for the E and F variants of the F/A-18, dubbed the Super Hornet.
The press release makes no mention of the F-35, of which the Navy operates both the B version, capable of vertical takeoff and landing, and the C version, specifically catered to the rough life of aircraft carrier launches and arrested landings.
However, Sputnik reported earlier this month that the Air Force did not expect to meet the MC improvement goals for its F-35s or F-22s in time.
“We won’t make it, but the data behind the facts is we’re actually having pretty good success,” Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly, the US Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for operations, said at the 2019 Defense News conference hosted by the outlet. He noted the planes’ specialized stealth coating, which requires careful maintenance, as one reason for the shortcoming.