Superior technology is an advantage the United States military has historically leveraged to deter, fight, and win wars. But it’s not just advanced weaponry that has helped us fend off enemies. Our strength has also depended on our ability to mass combat power to overwhelm adversaries.
That’s a point that has gotten lost at times as the race to acquire the most advanced weapons technology gets consistently prioritized. At a recent aerospace and defense gathering, discussions centered almost exclusively around developing, acquiring, and fielding high-tech systems to deter Chinese aggression in the Pacific. But in an actual confrontation with China, the initial reliance would almost certainly be on our fighter jets, aircraft carriers, and submarines — tactical weaponry to hold a line or push the Chinese forces back. Unfortunately, if the Chinese happen to read any recent US Government Accountability Office report on the mission readiness of our aircraft and ship fleets, they might not be so deterred.
Despite years of hand-wringing over the number of weapons systems that are mission-capable during a typical fiscal year, our sustainment measures still fall far short of where they need to be to get the job done. In fact, over the last decade, the readiness picture for our weapons systems has only worsened. Even during the Global War on Terror — our last major military engagement — our aircrews were forced to work around reliability issues and less-than-fully mission capable aircraft to support ground troops, despite being given supply-chain priority by the Pentagon.
The fiscal year 2023 GAO report to Congress on weapon systems sustainment shows 26 of 49 aircraft, including the F-35, did not meet their annual mission-capable goal in any fiscal year between 2011 and 2021. Only one type of aircraft met the target in all 11 fiscal years, and only three met the goal in a majority of the years reviewed.