WASHINGTON — F-35s are available to fly just 55% of the time, and 73% of replacement parts have to be sent back to suppliers because the Pentagon's maintenance depots are inadequate, according to a new congressional audit on the troubled upkeep of the fighter jet that is the world's costliest weapons system.
The report released this week by the Government Accountability Office came days after a $100 million F-35B crashed over South Carolina. The warplane's Marine Corps pilot, who had been on a training mission, ejected safely.
The Marine Corps has only begun its investigation into what went wrong. But Thursday's GAO report updates the persistent maintenance shortcomings of the advanced fighter fleet built by Lockheed Martin Corp., which is expected to cost a total of $1.7 trillion including decades of operations and maintenance.
The 55% average availability rate as of March is “far below” the goal of a “mission capable rate” of 85% to 90%, depending on the different versions of the plane, the GAO said in its 96-page assessment.
The Marine Corps' goal for availability of its F-35B version is 85%, for example. Instead, the “mission capable” rate for F-35B training jets in fiscal 2022 was about 55% — and near zero for “full” mission capability, according to Navy statistics cited in the report.
The gist of the GAO assessment is that maintenance and sustainment challenges will only worsen unless the…