A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report reveals that just over half of the U.S. military’s F-35 jets were mission-capable earlier this year due to a repair backlog. To keep planes in the air, the program office has resorted to buying new parts instead of waiting for repairs, a tactic that the Department of Defense (DOD) admits is unsustainable. This practice is also delaying the construction of repair depots that could alleviate the backlog. The low mission-capable rate of 55 percent is far below the program’s goal of 85 to 90 percent and has remained stagnant since 2022.
- As of March 2023, the mission-capable rate of the U.S. Lightning II fleet stood at 55 percent, failing to meet the program’s target of 85 to 90 percent.
- To manage a backlog of more than 10,000 F-35 parts awaiting repair, the program office has started purchasing new parts—an approach the DOD acknowledges is unsustainable in the long term.
- The unanticipated spending on new parts may hinder the establishment of military service depots needed for repair work, potentially perpetuating low mission-capable rates.
- The DOD is considering a performance-based logistics contract with Lockheed Martin but is torn due to flexibility concerns over a potential five-year commitment.
- The F-35 program is expected to cost taxpayers $1.7 trillion over its lifetime, with $1.3 trillion allocated for operating and sustaining the aircraft.