The Pentagon has abandoned plans to raise the combat readiness of its modern fighter jets - including the F-35, the F-22, the F-16 and the F/A-18 - up to 80 percent of which were originally earmarked by former US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis, according to the nominee for the post of Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General Charles Brown, in written testimony to the US Senate. The decision to ditch the plan came from the office of the Mattis' successor, Mark Esper.
According to Brown, the decision on appropriate combat readiness levels is entirely up to the top Pentagon brass.
"The Air Force returned to allowing lead commands to determine the required [mission capable] rates to meet readiness objectives. We continue to balance near-term readiness recovery with investment long-term combat capability", Brown said.
Brown indicated that reaching an 80 percent level of combat readiness for all US fighter jets - capable of being sent into action on short notice - has proved to be difficult and costly to achieve, both with older models and the new F-35.
"Maintaining ageing aircraft is an extremely difficult and expensive task, while new, technologically advanced weapons systems present their own challenges", Brown acknowledged.
While the Air Force never achieved the 80 percent threshold set by Mattis, the US military branch did make some progress towards it, Brown offered. Ageing F-16s boosted combat readiness from 70 percent to 75 percent, F-22s gained an impressive 19 percent up to 68 percent of jets being ready to fight. The most recent addition to the aerial fleet, the troubled fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter jet, raised combat readiness levels to 74 percent from around 55 percent during the time the Mattis plan was active, the Air Force chief nominee revealed.
Brown asserted that the US Air Force is in the process of developing a new plan that will be less costly, but will still improve combat readiness levels across the military branch, although no timetable or details were forthcoming.