2022 was a difficult year for the Lockheed Martin F-35 in US service, with the jet’s availability and readiness rates dropping, and the flying hours remaining roughly the same.
A US Congressional Budget Office report on the availability and use of the F-35 was updated with new information in February 2023, adding data from the previous year.
The availability of the jets, meaning the percentage of aircraft that are considered mission-capable and possessed by operational squadrons, fell by 11% for the F-35A and by 7% for the F-35B. Only the carrier-borne F-35C showed an increase of availability by 4%.
Full mission availability, a measure that shows what percentage of aircraft can perform all their tasked missions, also fell for the F-35A and the F-35B but rose for the F-35C.
Flying hours per airframe showed only a marginal increase for all three variants after an uneven but steady rise during the last decade.
The report also analyzed the relationship between the age of a particular F-35 and its availability, aiming to show how aging affects the jet.
The results suggest that in terms of both availability and flying hours, the F-35A is more affected by aging than the F-15 and the F-22. However, aging affected the F-35B in a similar manner to the AV-8B Harrier. When it comes to the F-35C, availability was affected in a similar way to the F/A-18, but the jet’s flying hours appeared to drop more with age when compared to the F/A-18.
A difficult year
The F-35 procurement program experienced several significant setbacks in 2022. Delivery of the jet was stopped for a month between September and October 2022 after Chinese-made alloys were found to be used in the aircraft’s production.
The availability rate of the aircraft was likely to have been heavily affected by several groundings following incidents involving the F-35.
In December 2022 part of pentagon’s F-35 fleet was grounded after the F-35B crash-landed during a test flight at the Fort Worth air base in Texas.
Large parts of the fleet were also grounded in August-September 2022 when faults with Martin Baker ejection seats were discovered.
The year also brought new international customers for the F-35 program, with Germany, Canada and Switzerland ordering the jet, while several other countries, including Greece, Czechia and Thailand, also requested to purchase the jet.
However, the paused deliveries likely resulted in Lockheed Martin not being able to deliver planned numbers of the aircraft.