The General Accounting Office published a troubling study of the readiness of military aircraft that are essential to the air operations of the U.S. Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Air Force:
GAO examined 49 aircraft and found that only four met their annual mission capable goal in a majority of the years from fiscal years 2011 through 2021. As shown below, 26 aircraft did not meet their annual mission capable goal in any fiscal year. 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.https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-23-106217
Think about the implications of this. The United States defense budget for FY 2022 is $715 billion. This is almost two and a half times the defense budgets of China and Russia combined:
At the fifth session of the 13th National People’s Congress in early March, the Chinese government announced a defense budget of 1.45 trillion yuan (about $229 billion) for fiscal year 2022, which is a 7.1 percent year-on-year increase from 2021 (Xinhua, March 5).https://jamestown.org/program/chinas-2022-defense-budget-behind-the-numbers/
[Russian] defense spending from January to April totaled almost 1.6 trillion rubles ($26.4 billion), with about 500 billion rubles ($8.3 billion) of spending per month for March and April. Considering these dynamics in comparison with Moscow’s defense spending in previous years—roughly 300 billion rubles ($5 billion) per month—and the fact that the original defense budget in 2022 was 3.85 trillion rubles ($63.6 billion), the true amount for Russian defense spending in 2022 may well reach as much as 5.5 trillion rubles ($90.9 billion) by the end of the year (Budget.gov.ru, May 2022).https://jamestown.org/program/russias-skyrocketing-defense-spending-2022-2023/
If you think that spending more money that China and Russia on outfitting the U.S. military buys greater capability, think again. Here is what the GAO says:
Comparing fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2021, the average mission capable rate for the selected aircraft has fallen for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, to varying degrees. The average mission capable rate for the selected Army aircraft has risen.
For fiscal year 2021, GAO found that only two of the 49 aircraft examined met the service-established mission capable goal. More specifically, for fiscal year 2021, 30 aircraft were more than 10 percentage points below the mission capable goal in fiscal year 2021; and 17 aircraft were 10 percentage points or less below the mission capable goal in fiscal year 2021.
Many of the selected aircraft are facing one or more sustainment challenges, as shown below. According to program officials, these challenges have an effect on mission capable rates.https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-23-106217
It would be one thing if these problems were confined to just one class of aircraft. As the chart below shows, the “challenges” are pervasive and affect all key operational capabilities, from Air Refueling to long range bombers:
The GAO provides a more focused analysis on aircraft from the five services (i.e., Air Force, Navy, JOINT, Army and Marine Corps). It is not a pretty picture:
Let me put this into practical terms. Let us suppose the United States wants to deploy troops and equipment to Ukraine to prepare for entering the conflict to reinforce Ukriane. A key Air Force asset with that mission is the C-5M.
According to the GAO report, this aging plane (I saw one of the first ones produced as a young boy during a visit to Georgia in 1968 — the plane is 54 years old) is deficient in the following areas:
- Unexpected replacement of parts and repairs.
- Delays in depot maintenance.
- Shortage of trained maintenance personnel.
- Unscheduled maintenance.
- Diminishing manufacturing source.
- Parts obsolescence.
- Parts shortage and delay.
This means potential delays in the deployment of troops, vehicles, helicopters and artillery. If China decides to move on Taiwan then the United States military commanders are likely to be faced with the dilemma of not being able to support major military engagements in Russia and China. Which geographic region receives the priority for taking control of the usable C5s?
The United States Navy currently has 296 in “battle-force ships in inventory” but only 251 active ships in commission (The number of ships active in commission includes those that are commissioned but not battle-ready, such as the USS Constitution; and excludes most combat logistics and fleet support ships.)
According to data compiled and updated by the Navy, here is the current total of battle-force ships as of June 23, 2021.
Aircraft Carriers: 11
Surface Combatants: 115
Amphibious Warfare Ships: 31
Mine Warfare Ships: 8
Combat Logistics Ships: 29
Fleet Support: 33
Auxiliary Support: 1
Combatant Craft: 0
To put this in context — prior to the start of World War II, the United States had 790 active ships. By the end of the war, that number soared to 6084. Today’s fleet is half-the size of the U.S. fleet at the dawn of World War II. The U.S. Navy is now a carrier centered force, as I have discussed in previous posts. Its ability to project force has diminished over the last ten years as Russia and China have developed effective hypersonic missiles that can defeat the current air and missile defense systems in place ostensibly to protect the Carrier task forces from attack.
The critical difference between now and December 7, 1941 is the dramatic decline in the U.S. industrial base. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States built and deployed 5,294 ships–e.g., aircraft carriers, battleships and destroyers–in three years. Think about that. The United States was producing on average 147 ships a month. Today, it takes 5 to 7 years to build and deploy an aircraft carrier. In the event of a war with Russia and/or China, the United States can no longer churn out the volume of naval craft it did in World War II. Just because the ships are loaded up with more advanced technology does not automatically translate into greater combat effectiveness and longevity.
I am not trying to be a Debbie Downer. Just pointing out some uncomfortable facts that should make any officer or political leader contemplating war with Russia and China to think twice.