Mission capable rates for Air Force aircraft (see above) don’t tell the whole story on platform availability. Indeed, when factoring the aircraft that are in depot for routine overhauls as well as those that are assigned for duty, availability numbers for each aircraft type fall precipitously. For example, fighter availability rates are about 58.9 percent today, down from a recent high of 69.2 percent in Fiscal 2005. Airlift and tanker availability rates hover around the 60 percent range, as do those for special operations and combat search and rescue platforms. But only 44.8 percent of the bomber fleet is ready to go at any time, down from a peak of 57.2 percent in Fiscal 2002. The worst availability rate of any platform belongs to the B-2A, which is available for combat only 36.8 percent of any given time. (Worth noting, though, is that the entire B-2 fleet is only 20 aircraft, some of which still require laborious stealth surface preparation for combat.) The most available platform is the MQ-1 Predator, which is ready to go 80.6 percent of the time.
While the Air Force is keeping a seemingly optimistic outlook about the future of its MH-139 Grey Wolf fleet, despite problems receiving FAA certification, another of the service’s helicopter programs is being prematurely curtailed—and officials are already considering what might come next.