Weapon System Sustainment: Aircraft Mission Capable Rates Generally Did Not Meet Goals and Cost of Sustaining Selected Weapon Systems Varied Widely

Mission Capable Rates for Selected Department of Defense Aircraft

GAO examined 46 types of aircraft and found that only three met their annual mission capable goals in a majority of the years for fiscal years 2011 through 2019 and 24 did not meet their annual mission capable goals in any fiscal year as shown below. The mission capable rate—the percentage of total time when the aircraft can fly and perform at least one mission—is used to assess the health and readiness of an aircraft fleet.

Number of Times Selected Aircraft Met Their Annual Mission Capable Goal, Fiscal years 2011 through 2019

aThe military departments did not provide mission capable goals for all nine years for these aircraft.

Aggregating the trends at the military service level, the average annual mission capable rate for the selected Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps aircraft decreased since fiscal year 2011, while the average annual mission capable rate for the selected Army aircraft slightly increased. While the average mission capable rate for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter showed an increase from fiscal year 2012 to 2019, it trended downward from fiscal year 2015 through fiscal year 2018 before improving slightly in fiscal year 2019.

For fiscal year 2019, GAO found only three of the 46 types of aircraft examined met the service-established mission capable goal. Furthermore, for fiscal year 2019:

  • six aircraft were 5 percentage points or fewer below the goal;
  • 18 were from 15 to 6 percentage points below the goal; and
  • 19 were more than 15 percentage points below the goal, including 11 that were 25 or more percentage points below the goal.

Program officials provided various reasons for the overall decline in mission capable rates, including aging aircraft, maintenance challenges, and supply support issues as shown below.

Sustainment Challenges Affecting Some of the Selected Department of Defense Aircraft

aA service life extension refers to a modification to extend the service life of an aircraft beyond what was planned.
bDiminishing manufacturing sources refers to a loss or impending loss of manufacturers or suppliers of items.
cObsolescence refers to a lack of availability of a part due to its lack of usefulness or its no longer being current or available for production.

Operating and Support Costs for Selected Department of Defense Aircraft

Operating and support (O&S) costs, such as the costs of maintenance and supply support, totaled over $49 billion in fiscal year 2018 for the aircraft GAO reviewed and ranged from a low of $118.03 million for the KC-130T Hercules (Navy) to a high of $4.24 billion for the KC-135 Stratotanker (Air Force). The trends in O&S costs varied by aircraft from fiscal year 2011 to 2018. For example, total O&S costs for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (Navy) increased $1.13 billion due in part to extensive maintenance needs. In contrast, the F-15C/D Eagle (Air Force) costs decreased by $490 million due in part to a reduction in the size of the fleet. Maintenance-specific costs for the aircraft types we examined also varied widely.

Why This Matters

The Department of Defense (DOD) spends tens of billions of dollars annually to sustain its weapon systems in an effort to ensure that these systems are available to simultaneously support today’s military operations and maintain the capability to meet future defense requirements. This report provides observations on mission capable rates and costs to operate and sustain 46 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft in the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

How GAO Did This Study

GAO was asked to report on the condition and costs of sustaining DOD’s aircraft. GAO collected and analyzed data on mission capable rates and O&S costs from the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force for fiscal years 2011 through 2019. GAO reviewed documentation and interviewed program office officials to identify reasons for the trends in mission capability rates and O&S costs as well as any challenges in sustaining the aircraft. This is a public version of a sensitive report issued in August 2020. Information on mission capable and aircraft availability rates were deemed to be sensitive and has been omitted from this report.

For more information, contact Director Diana Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or maurerd@gao.gov.

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    A Coram, New York, car wash owner pleaded guilty today to tax evasion, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme for the Eastern District of New York. According to court documents and statements made in court, Nicholas Pascullo, 56, operated a car wash and detailing business called H2O Car Wash & Exotic Detailing LLC (H2O), based in Lindenhurst, New York. From 2012 to 2017, Pascullo attempted to evade income and employment taxes owed by him and H2O for calendar years 2012 through 2016. As part of the scheme, Pascullo filed false partnership and individual income tax returns with the IRS that underreported the gross receipts earned by H2O and the flow-through income received by Pascullo and his partners.
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  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with African Union Commission Chairperson Faki
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Seven MS-13 Gang Members Indicted in Violent Crime and Drug Distribution Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Nashville, Tennessee, returned a 16-count superseding indictment Wednesday, charging seven MS-13 gang members with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana and serious firearm-related offenses, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Don Cochran for the Middle District of Tennessee.
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  • HHS Leverages Public Feedback to Advance Landscape Analysis on Emerging Technologies for Aging, Underserved Populations
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    February 3, 2021 By: [Read More…]
  • Three Charged with Illegally Exporting Goods to Iran
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that three individuals have been charged in an indictment with conspiracy to export U.S. goods to Iran in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR), as well as conspiracy to smuggle goods from the United States, and conspiracy to engage in international money laundering.
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  • NASA’s Mars Rover Drivers Need Your Help
    In Space
    Using an online tool to [Read More…]
  • New York Fisherman and Fish Dealer Charged with Conspiracy, Fraud, and Obstruction
    In Crime News
    Today, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of New York unsealed the indictment of one fisherman, a wholesale fish dealer, and two of its managers for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and obstruction in connection with a scheme to illegally overharvest fluke and black sea bass. All four defendants are from Montauk.
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  • Florida Medical Doctor Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Falsify Clinical Trial Data
    In Crime News
    A Florida medical doctor pleaded guilty to conspiring to falsify clinical trial data regarding an asthma medication, the Department of Justice announced today.
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  • USDA Market Facilitation Program: Information on Payments for 2019
    In U.S GAO News
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) distributed about $14.4 billion in 2019 Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments to farming operations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. According to USDA, these payments were intended to offset the effects of trade disruptions and tariffs targeting a variety of U.S. agricultural products. FSA distributed these payments to 643,965 farming operations. The average MFP payment per farming operation for 2019 was $22,312 but varied by county, ranging from $44 to $295,299. MFP payments for 2019 also varied by type of commodity. Three types of commodities were eligible for 2019 MFP payments: (1) nonspecialty crops (including grains and oilseeds, such as corn and soybeans); (2) specialty crops (including nuts and fruits, such as pecans and cranberries); and (3) dairy and hogs. Most of the 2019 MFP payments went to farming operations that produced nonspecialty crops. Less than 10 percent went to farming operations that produced specialty crops or dairy and hogs. USDA made approximately $519 million in additional MFP payments for 2019 compared with 2018 because of increases in payment limits—the cap on payments that members of farming operations can receive. FSA distributed these additional MFP payments to about 10,000 farming operations across 39 states. The amount of additional MFP payments that FSA distributed for 2019 varied by location. Farming operations in five states—Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota—received almost half of all additional payments. In May 2019, USDA announced it would distribute up to $14.5 billion in direct payments to farming operations that were affected by trade disruptions, following the approximately $8.6 billion USDA announced it had distributed for 2018. USDA referred to these 2018 and 2019 payments as the MFP. In comparison with 2018, USDA changed the 2019 payment structure for the three types of commodities that were eligible for payments. For example, USDA increased the payment limit for each of these three types. GAO was asked to review the distribution of MFP payments for 2019. This report examines, among other things, MFP payments for 2019 and how they varied by location, farming operation, and type of commodity, as well as additional MFP payments for 2019 compared with 2018 that resulted from increased payment limits. To accomplish these objectives, GAO analyzed data from USDA and interviewed agency officials knowledgeable about the data. For more information, contact Steve Morris at (202) 512-3841 or morriss@gao.gov.
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  • Sanctioning Iranian Intelligence Officers Involved in the Abduction of Bob Levinson
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Operation Legend Expanded to Indianapolis
    In Crime News
    Today, the expansion of Operation Legend was announced in Indianapolis.  Operation Legend is a sustained, systematic and coordinated law enforcement initiative in which federal law enforcement agencies work in conjunction with state and local law enforcement officials to fight violent crime.  The Operation was first launched on July 8 in Kansas City, MO., and expanded on July 22, 2020, to Chicago and Albuquerque, to Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee on July 29, 2020, and to St. Louis and Memphis on August 6, 2020.
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