Availability of US Air Force 5G aircraft still problematic

As the US Air Force completes deployments to Europe of some of its forces as part of Exercise Rapid Forge, availability figures of its devices question the choices made over several years. Indeed, as shown in the table below, the availability of so-called 5th generation aircraft, namely the F22 and F35A, remains year after year much lower than that of older, although modernized, 4th generation aircraft.

Devices in the park
Availability 2017Availability 2018
A-10 C28174%72%
F-15 D2370%69%
F-16 D15470%66%

The gap between the devices of the two generations is glaring, ranging from 40 to 50% depending on the year and the devices. However, 5th generation devices are also much more expensive than those of the previous generation, for purchase, and especially for maintenance. Finally, the availability figures announced take into account an optimum maintenance environment, in perfectly connected and supplied bases. We can therefore wonder about the level of availability that these devices will achieve in dispersed and more rustic environments, as recommended by the Rand Corporation in his study on the future of air warfare.

Until recently, the low availability of these aircraft, and in particular of the F35A which, remember, is supposed to replace the F16, was considered to be the consequence of the low number of aircraft in the fleet. But this argument can hardly be used when the stock reaches or exceeds 150 units.

A10 on track summary Defense News | Fighter aircraft | Military logistics chain
Due to its firepower and its ability to use basic runways, the A10 remains a sure value although unloved by the US Air Force.

We cannot help but think what such availability will mean for reduced air forces, such as those of Belgium or Denmark, whose number of aircraft available, i.e. 50% of the 32 aircraft in the fleet, will barely be sufficient. to ensure the training of forces, air policing missions, and participation in exercises and some NATO reassurance missions, such as Baltic Air Policy. The Country will no longer have the slightest capacity to participate in any external operation, particularly European.

Once again, it is useful to look at the strategy employed by other countries, such as Russia and China, which are developing fleets of 5th generation aircraft, such as the Su57 and the J20, in addition to larger fleets. modernized 4th generation aircraft, such as the Su30/34/35 and the J10/16. Like the use of the T14 tank as a breakout unit to allow exploitation by modernized T72s and T90s, the Su57 and J20 appear as aircraft intended to obtain a tactical advantage allowing exploitation by more traditional forces. , and many more. This may involve, for example, the elimination of support aircraft, such as Awacs and tankers, or of communication and command centers, logistics depots or air bases, allowing more rustic aircraft to evolve. in a more secure environment.

We can, therefore, wonder if the intense lobbying by NATO, the US Air Force and Lockheed to have the F35A adopted as the main aircraft of many Western air forces is not, in the end, a factor weakening for NATO, for Europe, and for all of Western Collective Defense? A lesson that cannot be ignored in the development of future European FCAS and Tempest programs.

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