By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 10, 2004) -- During operations in Iraq, the Air Force experienced some of the highest mission-capable rates in recent history, said the service’s vice chief of staff.
Gen. T. Michael Moseley spoke before a Senate Armed Service Committee subcommittee on readiness and management support March 9, directly crediting Airmen for the extremely high rates during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Our Airmen have done some tremendous work in terms of readiness," General Moseley said. "During the conflict last year, we enjoyed our highest active overall mission-capable rates in six years."
The mission-capable rate refers to the number of aircraft ready to fly at any time. The general told committee members the Air Force hit many readiness milestones in 2003.
"Our aggregate mission-capable rates for fiscal 2003 were 75.9 percent," General Moseley said. "Our fighter fleet is up almost 2 percent since fiscal 2001, and our B-1 [Lancers] produced the best mission-capable and supply rates in history."
The general also told senators that spare-parts shortages had been reduced, the number of aircraft in the depots was down and aggregate cannibalization rates were the lowest since 1995. Cannibalization occurs when parts needed to repair one aircraft are taken from another.
Air Force officials are now working to reconstitute after intense operations in Southwest Asia, General Moseley said. Reconstitution efforts involve the replenishment of munitions and vehicles, and the refitting of such elements as fuel bladders, tents and expeditionary combat support.
The general said reconstitution also involves the maintenance and readiness of the service's No. 1 weapons system: Airmen.
"Beyond just equipment, our warfighting capabilities depend on training and a sustainable battle rhythm for the entire force," General Moseley said. "At the peak of Operation Iraqi Freedom, we had eight equivalents of our 10 (air and space) expeditionary forces deployed. We now have three deployed. But our steady state desire is for two."
Air Force officials had previously predicted the service would return to its normal battle rhythm by March 2004. General Moseley said that only 90 percent has returned to sustainable battle rhythm. Those still surging include "low-density, high-demand" assets like combat support, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, and security forces.
General Moseley also discussed efforts to put Airmen back into jobs only they can do, and the importance of joint training and ranges that are set up for joint use. The potential effects of fiscal 2005 budget requests not being met in their entirety and the effects of aging aircraft on readiness were also mentioned.
"Aging aircraft issues continue to present us with a problem of fewer assets being available at ever-increasing costs," General Moseley said. "If we want to ensure air and space dominance in future engagements, we must recapitalize and modernize our assets. Today our average fleet has approximately 23 years in service. Some, like our KC-135 [Stratotankers], average as much as 43 years in service."
The general said that aging fleets are vulnerable to many problems, including previously unknown technical issues and the disappearance of vendors that in the past have supported the fleets.
The diminished readiness of some aircraft affects more than just the Air Force, General Moseley said.
"These assets are invaluable … in the case of the tankers. Since we tank the world, they are a vital air commander's asset as well as a key enabler for our Navy, Marine and coalition partners," General Moseley said.