After a slew of aviation incidents in recent years, attributed largely to reduced maintenance and increased operational tempo for America’s workhorse fighters, Defense Secretary James Mattis has issued a new directive to Air Force and Navy officials: Bring America’s fighter fleets back up to an 80% readiness rating — and even more dramatically — do it within a year.

In a memo distributed in mid-September, but only recently released to the media, Mattis acknowledged that “budget constraints and shortfalls” in recent years have had a troubling effect on overall aircraft readiness. According to Mattis, who repeatedly called on lawmakers to remedy their decade-long trend of failing to pass defense budgets in a timely manner because of the diminishing effect it had on military readiness, this chronic issue has led to “systemic underperformance, overcapitalization and unrealized capacity” in America’s fighters. This is something he believes can be remedied thanks to increased defense funding for this fiscal year and a renewed emphasis on reducing maintenance costs while increasing maintenance availability for aircraft that need it.

In short, Mattis envisions cutting operating costs while increasing readiness, specifically among America’s fleets of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, F-22 Raptors, F-16 Fighting Falcons and F/A-18 Super Hornets.

Although the F-35 is slated for service aboard America’s carriers, the Super Hornet will remain the Navy’s workhorse fighter for years to come. (DoD)

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