Availability and Use of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Fighter Aircraft
CBO compares the availability and use of the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter aircraft with the availability and use of their predecessor F/A-18C/D Hornets and other aircraft. Super Hornets have aged more adversely than the F/A-18C/Ds.
In this report, the Congressional Budget Office compares the availability and use of the Department of the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter and attack aircraft with the availability and use of their predecessor F/A-18C/D Hornets and other aircraft operated by the Department of the Navy and the Air Force. Availability is the percentage of time an aircraft can be flown on training or operational missions. Use is the number of hours aircraft are flown on those missions, measured in this report as average monthly flying hours per aircraft.
Availability Rates by Fiscal Year Are Lower and Declined Faster for Both Types of Hornets Than for the Rest of the Department of the Navy’s Fleet. Availability rates of Super Hornets declined markedly between the mid-2000s and the mid-2010s; the older F/A-18C/D Hornets experienced a longer and steeper drop. Both types of Hornets experienced sharper and steeper drops in availability than the rest of the Department of the Navy’s fleet. Because the Super Hornet is a newer aircraft, it has a higher availability rate, on average, than F/A-18C/Ds, which were introduced in the late 1980s.
Super Hornets Have Aged More Adversely Than Their Predecessors. When compared with F/A-18C/Ds of the same age, the Super Hornet fleet has had lower availability rates. For example, Super Hornet availability at age 10 was about 18 percentage points lower than F/A-18C/D availability at age 10 and is comparable to F/A-18C/D availability at age 20. These findings suggest that age has had a more adverse effect on Super Hornets than it did on F/A-18C/Ds.
Flying Hours Cannot Explain Differing Availability. Are Super Hornets becoming less available faster than their predecessors because they are flying more and thus subject to greater wear and tear? The data CBO analyzed do not support this hypothesis. Monthly flying hours of Super Hornets modestly exceeded those of F/A-18C/Ds only in the initial years of operation of both fleets. By age 10, however, Super Hornets were flying four fewer hours per month than 10-year-old F/A-18C/Ds flew.
Availability Rates of Super Hornets May Stabilize or Continue to Decline. The experiences of the oldest Super Hornets suggest that their availability is likely to continue to decline as the fleet ages. A similar trend has been observed for many fighter and attack aircraft. But some fleets have had lengthy periods with stable availability rates. Because the Super Hornet is a relatively new aircraft, the Navy could take actions that might increase or stabilize the aircraft’s availability rate, such as increasing funding for maintenance.