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New Okinawa Chief Wants US to Rethink Marine Base Relocation

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TOKYO — The new governor of Okinawa said Friday he wants Americans to know that the U.S. and Japanese governments are forcing a relocation of a U.S. Marine base that residents want removed from the southern Japanese island.

Denny Tamaki was elected last month after campaigning for moving the disputed Marine base entirely off the island and reducing the American military presence.

Tamaki, who took office on Oct. 4, held talks in Tokyo with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday and urged the central government to do more to reduce the burden on Okinawa of hosting U.S. bases and have it shared by the rest of Japan.

Tamaki said the central and Okinawan governments remained divided on the base relocation, and that he wants U.S. involvement in resolving the issue. Currently, Washington’s position is that the dispute should be resolved between Tokyo and Okinawa.

“I want to appeal to America, where the people have a clear sense of democracy, that they should not neglect this base problem,” Tamaki said. “I want them to know that the former and current governors have clearly opposed the current plan, and both have won the confidence of the Okinawan people.”

Tamaki succeeded Takeshi Onaga, who fought against the Henoko plan and died in August of cancer.

At the center of contention is a decades-old plan to relocate the Marine Corps air station from the densely populated area of Futenma in southern Okinawa to less-crowded Henoko on the east coast. Tamaki and many Okinawans want the air station to be moved off the island instead.

Abe replied that he understands that Okinawan people find it unacceptable that their land is still occupied by a heavy U.S. military presence more than 70 years after World War II, and that he will be mindful of their feelings and work to steadily reduce their burden.

Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump have reaffirmed the Henoko plan, calling it “the only solution that avoids continued use” of the Futenma location.

The relocation plan was developed after the 1995 rape of a schoolgirl in which three U.S. servicemen were convicted. The case ignited simmering Okinawan opposition to the U.S. bases.

Tamaki told Abe that many Okinawans also want a revision of the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States, which gives American military personnel certain legal privileges.

Achieving those goals would be difficult because the central government takes precedence over the local government in Japan-U.S. alliance issues.

About half of the 50,000 U.S. troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact and the majority of their key facilities are on Okinawa. Residents have long complained about base-related noise, pollution and crime.

Tamaki told Abe that he supports the Japan-U.S. security alliance, but that Okinawa should not be the only one sacrificed. “Everyone in Japan should think about it,” he said.

“We will keep asking for dialogue so that the voices of Okinawan people are heard,” Tamaki said.

This article was written by Mari Yamaguchi from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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World War II Explosive Discovered Being Used as a Garden Decoration

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F-22s Left Behind at Tyndall During Hurricane Likely Damaged: Air Force

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The U.S. Air Force anticipates that a number of F-22 Raptors left behind at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, during Hurricane Michael were damaged by the storm, an official said Friday.

“A number of aircraft were left behind in hangars due to maintenance or safety reasons, and all of those hangars are damaged,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a statement. “We anticipate the aircraft parked inside may be damaged as well, but we won’t know the extent until our crews can safely enter those hangars and make an assessment.”

Neither the extent of the damage nor how many fighters were left behind was disclosed.

Officials also did not describe what maintenance was taking place that led officials to leave the jets at Tyndall instead of moving them to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where other F-22s from the 325th Fighter Wing moved earlier this week.

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The damage could hamper operations for the already dwindling Raptor fleet as the Defense Department aims to restore its fighter readiness rates.

While some aircraft have come out of active status for testing purposes, the Air Force has 183 of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made F-22s in its inventory today. More than 160 belong to active-duty units; the remainder are with Air National Guard elements. Four aircraft were lost or severely damaged between 2004 and 2012.

The Pentagon last estimated the F-22 unit cost at $139 million in 2009, roughly $163 million in today’s money. The last F-22 was delivered in 2011. But in a classified report submitted to Congress last year, the Air Force estimated it would cost “$206 million to $216 million per aircraft” should it ever want to restart the production line for newer, more advanced F-22s.

The DoD said that would amount to approximately “$50 billion to procure 194 additional F-22s.”

Roughly 120 fifth-generation stealth Raptors are combat-coded, or authorized to perform in wartime operations, at any given time. But the platform’s mission-capable rate has decreased over the years.

According to Defense News’ fiscal 2017 statistics, F-22s had a 49.01 percent mission-capable rate, meaning less than half were flyable at any given time. In 2014, more than three-quarters of F-22s were deemed mission capable.

The Pentagon wants to increase readiness rates for the F-22, F-16, F-35 and F/A-18 to 80 percent by next September — a 31 percent bump for the Raptor alone.

In July, the Government Accountability Office said the F-22 is frequently underutilized, mainly due to maintenance challenges and fewer opportunities for pilot training, as well as the fleet’s inefficient organizational structure.

Just this week, an F-22 at Alaska’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson made an emergency landing on a base runway. Photos showed the jet, from the 3rd Wing, leaning on its left side, which the Air Force said was the result of a landing gear malfunction.

The latest incident comes months after an F-22, also assigned to JBER’s 3rd Wing, experienced engine failure April 6 during a routine training flight at Tyndall. Days preceding the engine failure, another F-22 experienced a belly skid at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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Marine Combat Assault Battalion Set to Deactivate After 76 Years

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The Marine Corps will shut down its unique battalion-sized combat-assault unit this week after decades of service, from supporting Pacific campaigns during World War II to exercises with allies to wartime deployments to Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East.

Combat Assault Battalion, based in Okinawa, Japan, will case its colors Friday. It marks the end of a 76-year history during which engineers, amphibious assault vehicle crews and light-armored reconnaissance units worked side-by-side to support 3rd Marine Division.

” ‘Sui Generis’ is the motto of the unit, which means unique or of its own kind,” Lt. Col. Jacob Robinson, CAB’s final commanding officer, told Military.com. “I think that really is the essence of the legacy. It’s always been a fairly diverse unit and has had significant capabilities dating back to 1942.”

The decision to deactivate the unit is the result of Marine Corps Force 2025, a years-long review that determines where the service needs to boost or shrink capabilities in an effort to remain relevant in the future fight. Deactivating Combat Assault Battalion, Robinson said, helps the service save manpower, realign existing capabilities and open up the opportunity to add new ones.

Almost all of the nearly 1,000 Marines who were assigned to the unit as of last summer have already been reassigned. It took about a year for the bulk of the personnel to transition out or be moved, as leaders tried not to disrupt the lives of Marines and their families who’d traveled all the way to Japan to serve with Combat Assault Battalion.

The AAV and LAV personnel and equipment made for the cleanest transition, Robinson said, since they moved in whole to 4th Marine Regiment, also on Okinawa. Some of the combat engineers also stayed in Japan, while others moved to Hawaii or were absorbed by I or II Marine Expeditionary Force units on the East and West coasts.

CAB’s deactivation is a bittersweet one for Robinson, who said it was an honor to serve as battalion commander for Marines carrying out such diverse missions. The Marines had a chance to operate in a forward-deployed environment alongside allies all over the world, he said.

And since the unit has long roots in armor — first with tank crews and later amphibious assault vehicles and light-armored vehicles — the battalion’s combat engineers, LAV teams and AAV crews have gotten a rare chance to work closely together.

“Nowhere else do you have all those same capabilities working in the same unit,” Robinson said. “… It’s been a real opportunity for those Marines to be able to experience the other [military occupational specialties] in a way they don’t generally get the opportunity to do so.”

CAB’s deactivation ceremony will be held Friday afternoon at the Camp Courtney Theater. Brig. Gen. William Jurney, commanding general of 3rd Marine Division, is scheduled to preside over the deactivation.

The Marines who’ve served in Combat Assault Battalion — from World War II through the present — will carry those experiences forward, Robinson added.

“I think the legacy is, for a long time from now, I think you will be able to go to a unit and you’ll be able to find Marines who served in Combat Assault Battalion,” he said. “… That’s the case dating all the way back to World War II, under whatever name this unit was called. The legacy is their contribution to the betterment of the Marine Corps — not only while they were in this unit, but just as importantly as they served with other units.”

— Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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How the Marines Plan to Meet Mattis’ Call to Fix Aviation Readiness

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The Marine Corps‘ aviation woes have posed the biggest challenge to the force’s readiness, but the service’s top general has a simple response to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ call to improve aircraft mission-capable rates.

“Roger that,” Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said during a Wednesday Defense Writers Group breakfast with reporters. “… I’m sure if we don’t make it, we’ll hear about it.”

There’s no single answer to improving overall aviation readiness, he said. Marine aviation has been plagued for years by steep budget cuts, high operational demands, parts shortages and less flying time for air crews.

That resulted in a “horrible year” for Marine aviation in 2017, Neller said, citing a JulyKC-130T crash that left 16 dead. Less than a month later, three Marines were killed when theirMV-22B Osprey crashed near Australia, prompting a24-hour operational pause in all flight operations.

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“We’ve got to do our part,” the commandant said. “We’ve got to do a better job of managing our flight-hour program. … We’ve got to reset certain airplanes, and we’ve got to get some new airplanes.”

Here’s how the Marine Corps will meet Mattis’ call to boost mission-capable rates of some of the service’s most in-demand aircraft to more than 80 percent over the next year.

Ditching old aircraft.

The Corps is in the process of replacing several aging airframes and, when it does, it needs to get rid of the old models. Otherwise, they only put a strain on squadrons, Neller said.

“At some point, when you’re getting new, you have to get rid of the old ones,” he said. “[Or] you have a squadron that’s designed to maintain 12 airplanes and they’ve got to maintain 16.”

Harvesting old parts.

Before those jets and helicopters fly off to the boneyard, Neller said they should be checked for parts. Older CH-53s and F/A-18 Hornets, for example, could have parts that the Marine Corps can use on some of its upgraded models.

“We have to take advantage of the parts we can get off them,” he said.

Pressing industry to do better.

Vendors also have a role to play. Their “quality has got to go up,” Neller said. And if they’re providing the services with new aircraft, they need to be prepared to stock the parts they’ll need to maintain them.

It’s not acceptable to have just one or two companies capable of manufacturing parts for the entire Defense Department’s aviation fleet.

“We’ve got to have more depth,” Neller said.

Printing its own parts.

One way the Marine Corps can work around parts shortages is by printing its own. The service is currently operating two metal printers, and it has plans to buy more, Neller said.

That will improve maintainers’ access to the parts they need, he added.

In 2016, an MV-22 Osprey took flightusing a 3-D printed part. The Army and Air Force have also used the technologyto fix oreven create a new aircraft.

— Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@ginaaharkins.

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F-22 Raptor Makes Emergency Landing in Alaska

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An F-22 Raptor at Alaska’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson made an emergency landing on a base runway Wednesday afternoon, officials from the 3rd Wing said.

“The pilot was able to egress the aircraft safely,” the 3rd Wing said in a statement. “The incident is under investigation.”

“Initial reports indicate that yesterday’s F-22 Raptor emergency landing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson was the result of a landing gear malfunction. The pilot was able to exit the aircraft safely,” the base said in a statement.

Photos surfaced on social media showing the F-22 leaning on its left side.

The latest incident comes months after an F-22, also assigned to JBER’s 3rd Wing, experienced engine failure April 6 during a routine training flight at Tyndall Air Force Base. Days preceding the engine failure, another F-22 experienced a belly skid at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.

Similarly, an F-35A from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, experienced a nose-gear malfunction following an in-flight emergency near the base in August.

The Defense Department wants more attention and maintenance hours devoted to its fighter fleets, F-22s included.

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The fifth-generation jet’s mission-capable rate — meaning the aircraft’s ability to deploy at a moment’s notice without issue — is low compared to some of its fourth-generation counterparts.

According to Defense News’ fiscal 2017 statistics, F-22s had a 49.01 percent mission-capable rate, meaning less than half were flyable at any given time. In 2014, more than three-quarters of F-22s were deemed mission capable.

This week, the Pentagon confirmed that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis aims to get the mission-capable rates of all F-22s, F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and F/A-18 Hornets up to 80 percent by next September.

Mission-capable rates aside, the Air Force’s F-22 inventory has faced numerous challenges.

In July, the Government Accountability Office said the F-22 is frequently underutilized, mainly due to maintenance challenges and fewer opportunities for pilot training, as well as the fleet’s inefficient organizational structure.

“Unless the Air Force takes steps to assess and make necessary adjustments to the current organization and use of its F-22s, F-22 units are likely to continue to experience aircraft availability and pilot training rates that are below what they could be,” the GAO said.

The latest F-22 mishap came just a day before Pentagon officials said its other premier fighter — the F-35 — would be temporarily grounded over potentially faulty fuel tubes within the engine.

All F-35 service variants were grounded Thursday, weeks after an F-35B crashed outside Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. The move stems directly from the Sept. 28 crash, officials said.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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Tyndall Air Force Base Suffers Severe Damage in Hurricane, Remains Closed

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Tyndall Air Force Base remains closed after the Florida facility sustained severe damage during the onslaught of Hurricane Michael this week, Air Force officials said Thursday.

“There is no power, water or sewer service to the base at this time,” Air Force spokeswoman Erika Yepsen said in a statement. “All personnel assigned to ride out the storm are accounted for with no injuries.”

The National Hurricane Center said the storm reached Category 4 status, with 150 mph winds as it made landfall early Wednesday afternoon. Tyndall at one point was in the eye of the storm.

“The Air Force is working to conduct aerial surveillance of the damage, to clear a route to the base and to provide security, potable water, latrines and communication equipment,” Yepsen said, adding that the base will remain closed and airmen should not plan to return until further notice.

“The good news is the airmen that we left behind to ride out the storm are all safe and accounted for,” Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, said in a video posted on Twitter. “In the short-term, it’s just not safe to return there. In the hours and days to come, we’ll know more about the conditions at Tyndall, and we’ll know more about when [airmen] can come back.”

A YouTube video showed an F-4 Phantom static display aircraft knocked over. Roofs were damaged across the base, trees were shown split or scattered, and vehicles were overturned.

At Eglin Air Force Base, the 96th Test Wing commander declared that base can return to normal operations and that base services will reopen Friday.

“All services will be open at normal operating hrs, including base hospital, child development centers, base exchange, commissary and dining facility,” according to a base Twitter announcement Thursday.

The 1st Special Operations Wing commander said on social media Wednesday that Hurlburt Field personnel are on standby to help Tyndall and other units recover.

While Hurlburt’s base services remained closed Thursday, “it appears the storm has made the long-awaited turn to the northeast,” Col. Michael E. Conley, 1st SOW commander, said on Facebook.

He went on to say it appeared that Hurlburt Field would be “spared from the worst impacts” and that the base, home to the Air Force’s special tactics community, “dodged a bullet.”

“Let’s give the Tyndall team the chance to fully assess the situation and figure out what they need,” Conley said.

Tyndall on Monday ordered the evacuation of all on-and-off-base personnel ahead of the hurricane. Personnel were given permission to use their government-issued credit cards “for any expenses incurred during this evacuation,” a base statement said, adding they will be reimbursed for any travel expenses of at least 100 miles, but no more than 500 miles, from the base.

Aircraft were moved from Tyndall to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, as a precaution. The base houses F-22 Raptors, T-38 Talons and QF-16sF-16 Fighting Falcons converted into unmanned aircraft. Officials did not specify how many aircraft had been moved.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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Marine Iraq Vet Among 20 Killed in New York Limo Crash

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Updated Oct. 10, 3:42 p.m. Eastern

A Marine veteran who served in Iraq was killed on his 34th birthday Saturday when the limousine he was riding in sped through an intersection and into a parked car. He was one of 20 people killed in the horrific accident, according to local reports.

Michael C. Ukaj was with 16 friends in the back of a 2001 Ford Excursion limo about 40 miles outside Albany, New York, when it failed to stop at an intersection, hitting an unoccupied Toyota SUV. All 17 passengers, the driver and two pedestrians near the parked vehicle were killed.

It was the deadliest transportation accident in nearly a decade, The New York Times reported.

Ukaj was the last person to be identified as one of the crash victims. His mother, Mary Ashton, told the Albany Times Union that her son had enlisted in the Marine Corps when he was 17 and had later deployed to Iraq.

He was there on his 21st birthday, she said, when he had to take shelter underneath a table as his base was being mortared, “praying he wouldn’t die,” the paper reported. He lost some of his friends on that deployment and, though he’d planned to re-enlist, was honorably discharged due to a medical condition, she told the paper.

Ukaj served as a bulk-fuel specialist in the Marine Corps from 2002 to 2007, according to his personnel records. He was deployed to Iraq from August 2005 to February 2006, and left the service at the rank of sergeant. 

His last duty assignment was with the California-based Marine Wing Support Squadron 372. Ukaj had two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medals and a Marine Corps Good Conduct medal. 

“We love you and miss you, our dear baby boy!” his mother wrote on Facebook on Monday. “You were such an inspiration when you wanted to join the Marine Corps! Thank you for your combat service, and for being my son. I love you forever. See you in heaven, baby!”

A fundraiser set up to benefit Ukaj’s family has raised more than $3,000.

The other limo passengers included several siblings and married couples. They were: Axel Steenburg, Richard Steenburg, Amy Steenburg, Allison King, Mary Dyson, Robert Dyson, Abigail Jackson, Matthew Coons, Savannah Bursese, Patrick Cushing, Amanda Halse, Erin McGowan, Shane McGowan, Amanda Rivenburg, Adam Jackson and Rachael Cavosie.

Scott Lisinicchia was the limousine driver, and the pedestrians killed were Brian Hough and James Schnurr.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he joins all New Yorkers “in mourning these deaths and share in the unspeakable sorrow experienced by their families and loved ones during this extremely difficult time.”

After reports of safety issues with the vehicle, Lee Kindlon, a lawyer representing Prestige Limousine, said he does not think those infractions were what led to the tragedy,according to the New York Post. The safety issues with the vehicle, he added, had been addressed and corrected.

Ukaj is survived by his parents, a sister and two brothers, the Times Union reported. Ashton told the paper the Marine veteran was “just a very happy” person who enjoyed life.

— Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@ginaaharkins.

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15-Person Marine Rifle Squads Could Be Coming Soon for Deployed Units

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Marines operating at sea could soon form the biggest rifle squads in the modern military as top leaders move toward expanding their size to 15-person teams.

Rifle squads deployed with Marine expeditionary units could plus up to 15 as soon as 2020, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said Wednesday. The extra personnel will help squad leaders deal with new responsibilities they’re taking on as warfare grows more technical.

“If we take it to 15, that’s difficult for one person, I think, to command and control,” Neller told reporters during a Defense Writers’ Group event in Washington, D.C. “That’s why we added those two other people — to help that squad leader whose workload is increasing.”

Marine officials announced in May that the traditional 13-person squad would drop to 12, including new assistant squad leader and squad-systems operator billets. Both of those Marines will come from the infantry ranks.

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A 12-person squad will be the minimum size grunts can expect across the infantry, said Lt. Col. Eric Dent, Neller’s spokesman. But if operational demands require it, leaders will have the ability to flex the size to 15 by adding an additional rifleman to each of the three fire teams.

Squads deploying aboard Navy ships and executing crisis-response missions around the world are likely to be the first to see the boosted numbers, Neller said.

Squad leaders are taking on a host of new responsibilities, which have been tested during an ongoing, years-long experiment, called Sea Dragon 2025, meant to help the service prepare for the future fight. Infantry Marines are now operating drones, self-driving vehicles, robots and other technologies, in addition to their existing duties.

“We added those two other people to help that squad leader whose workload is increasing, particularly if he’s flying [an unmanned-aerial vehicle], terrain permitting, or he’s got tablets and information and … the ability to command and control and deliver fires that he never had before,” the commandant said.

Adding the assistant squad leader and systems operator not only requires creating new billets, but developing their training programs — something Neller wants to execute as quickly as possible.

“I want to see if I can condense the space to get those two individuals, particularly the squad systems operator, trained and to the squad,” he said.

Getting those billets filled will be a “game changer,” Neller said, as would having them work in 15-person, forward-deployed teams. The typical squad size in the Army, for example, is nine.

Filling the new billets could prove challenging though. Marine officials are throwingbig bonuses at squad leaders this fiscal year in an effort to keep seasoned grunts from leaving the infantry for other assignments. It remains to be seen whether assistant squad leaders and systems operators will see similar incentives.

The move to boost the makeup of a deployed squad is just one of the decisions that came out of a force-wide review about how best to organize the Marine Corps to take on a near-peer enemy, and many of the decisions were based around funding. The service currently has the budget for a force of 186,000, but that could change, Neller said.

In case it does, Marine leaders developed different scenarios they can use in the years to come. Regardless of size, though, he said it is essential to move the force toward being ready to fight a more sophisticated enemy.

“We have to increase these capabilities that we needed, that we didn’t think we had, to fight a future fight,” Neller said. “That’s command and control, long-range precision strike, air defense, information operations, more intel, unmanned aircraft and increased engineering capability.

“And so we made some decisions that were not easy,” he said.

— Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@ginaaharkins.

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Mattis Orders Supercharge in Fighter Jet Readiness

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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wants to increase the mission-capable rates of the Pentagon’s premier fighter jets to more than 80 percent in a single year, requiring the Air Force and Navy to boost maintenance and sustainment for dozens of fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft, according to a new report.

“I can confirm that Secretary Mattis issued a Sept. 17, 2018 memo that directed multiple under secretaries of defense, the Air Force and Navy to get mission capable rates for four key tactical aircraft to 80 percent by FY19,” Pentagon spokesman Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said in a statement to Military.com.

“The Department of Defense is working closely with the Departments of the Air Force and Navy to achieve Secretary Mattis’ directive of achieving a minimum of 80 percent mission capability for Navy and Air Force F-35, F-16, F-22 and F-18 inventories by FY19,” Andrews added.

The memo, addressed to the service secretaries and other top Defense Department officials, was first obtained and reported Tuesday by Defense News.

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In the document, Mattis said the services must achieve a minimum level of 80 percent readiness — meaning 80 percent of all aircraft are ready to deploy at a moment’s notice — in the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F/A-18 Hornet fleets by next September, Defense News said.

“For change to be effective and efficient, we must focus on meeting our most critical priorities first,” Mattis said in the memo.

Mission-capable rates vary from year to year, but have hovered around 70 percent for the Air Force’s entire fleet the last two years. According to Air Force Times, the service saw a slight decrease, from 72.1 to 71.3 percent, in mission capability in its inventory between fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2017.

According to Defense News’ fiscal 2017 statistics, the F-16C fleet had a 70.22 percent mission-capable rate; F-35As, 54.67 percent; and F-22s, 49.01 percent. F-35As were declared initial operating capable in 2016, while the F-35B was the first of the U.S. military’s three F-35 variants to reach the milestone in 2015.

Meanwhile, the F-22 has seen the most significant drop, with a very small inventory.

The Air Force originally wanted at least 381 Raptors, but production ceased in 2011 at only 187 aircraft. More than 160 F-22s belong to active-duty units; the remainder are with Air National Guard elements. While some aircraft have come out of active status for testing purposes, the Air Force currently has 183 aircraft in its inventory. Four planes were lost or severely damaged between 2004 and 2012.

Air Force Times reported that more than three-quarters of F-22s were mission capable in 2014. Today, less than half are flyable at any given time, the report said.

In July, the Government Accountability Office said the F-22 is frequently underutilized, mainly due to maintenance challenges and fewer opportunities for pilot training, as well as the inefficient organizational structure of the fleet.

“Unless the Air Force takes steps to assess and make necessary adjustments to the current organization and use of its F-22s, F-22 units are likely to continue to experience aircraft availability and pilot training rates that are below what they could be,” the GAO said.

The Navy for months has pushed to restore readiness levels, increasing fighter flight hours and performing needed maintenance. But officials see challenges ahead.

Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, head of Naval Air Forces and commander of Naval Air Force-Pacific, last week said the service’s F/A-18 Super Hornet fleet is at about a 50 percent mission-capable rate, with roughly 260 aircraft ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. He said the Navy must increase that number to at least 341 out of 546 total jets.

“We didn’t get here overnight, and we’re not going to get out of here overnight,” Miller said during a panel discussion on naval aviation at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

To do so, the service is implementing what it dubbed “The Navy Sustainment System” to increase spare parts, maintenance capability and lead time to maintain aircraft at a faster rate, he said. The Navy Sustainment System will bring in additional bodies to watch how maintainers perform.

“What’s different this time is the expertise of the outside industry that we’re bringing in,” Miller said. “This is supported at the highest levels of the [Defense] Department, and that gives me confidence that if we … require changes in policy or law, that we will have complete support moving forward. This … is a proven system” in the civilian airline industry.

The Navy is looking to its fleet readiness centers and depot supply chain to spearhead the effort, starting with the Super Hornet lines. Experts will tour fleet readiness centers, working with Navy counterparts where they see inefficiencies in the system.

On the Air Force side of the house, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in recent months has publicly hailed improvements in the service’s maintainer shortage. The service said it was roughly 4,000 maintainers short in 2016 and began to prioritize staffing for air combat units with higher operations tempos, reshuffling more experienced maintainers throughout the force, with an emphasis on combat-coded units.

But officials have noted that, while those numbers are steady, some maintainer units lack experienced workers.

“We’ve now got enough people. [Now it’s about] getting them experience,” Wilson said at a Pentagon press conference in February, adding that the Air Force is working to get new maintainers more experience from higher-ranking “craftsmen who are supervising the apprentices.”

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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