The House Armed Services Committee send out an email citing a new CNN investigation into a recent slew of military aircraft crashes that has cost the lives of several service members while also costing the U.S. government billions of dollars in damages. The recent accidents have caused the general public question the competency and training of military pilots while military officials point to budget cuts and an aging air fleet as the cause of the crashes.
In the past few weeks we have witnessed the death of a Blue Angel pilot, an MH-60S helicopter crashed in the James River in Virginia during a training exercise and two F-16C fighter jets collide in the skies over Georgia. These military “mishaps” have become so common that some military officials are speaking out. Gen. John Paxton, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, commented on the surge of military accidents in recent years in a statement made to the Senate Armed Services Committee:
“We are concerned about an increasing number of aircraft mishaps and accidents,”
He went on to state that military budget cuts have led to a decrease in the number of hours pilots spend flying their aircraft and a reduction in the size and quality of maintenance crews. The inexperience of military pilots coupled with aging aircraft that are becoming more and more difficult to maintain are starting to have an effect on the competency of our military. He said to the Senate Armed Services Committee:
“If you don’t have the money and you don’t have the parts and you don’t have the maintenance, then you fly less… if you fly less and maintain slower, there’s a higher likelihood of accidents. So, we’re worried.”
Vice Adm. Paul Grosklags, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Jon Davis and Rear Adm. Michael Manazir have all echoed Paxton’s concerns. Continual budget cuts have bled maintenance crews dry while extended conflicts in the Middle East have caused the government to use aircraft well past their recommended lifespan. He cited 2013 budget cuts that caused the Navy to lose 10% of its maintenance crews and push the F/A-18, many of which were built in 1983, well past their 30 year life spans.
Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, has also publicly criticized the budget cuts and named them as a major cause for the recent increase in accidents. He said:
“The simple fact is that we don’t have enough airplanes to meet the training requirements for the entire force,”
Top-brass military leaders have stated that they would like to increase the number of training hours each pilot receives but are simply unable to in the modern era of increased budget cuts. Combat operations have taken priority over other actives and as a result pilot training hours have been cut. Gen. David L. Goldfein, the Air Force vice chief of staff told congress that budget cuts have led to one of the least prepared Air Force’s in American history. He stated to congress:
“25 years of continuous combat coupled with budget instability and lower-than-planned top lines have made the Air Force one of the smallest, oldest and least ready in our history.”
Military Aircraft Incidents By The Numbers:
- From October 2014 – April 2016 the Navy has suffered the heaviest losses.
- $1 billion in total damages.
- A MH-60S Navy Helicopter crashed in the James River in Virginia last week during a training mission.
- Navy F/A-18A crash in Nevada in January – $71m.
- A Blue Angels pilot was killed when his jet crashed.
- Budget cuts have caused the Navy to lose about 10% of its maintenance crews for some of its older planes.
- The Air Force has had 27 “Class A mishaps” since October 2014.
- Two F-16C fighter jets collided in the skies over Georgia, earlier this month.
- An Air Force Thunderbird demonstration squadron jet crashed.
- Since October 2014 the Air Force has lost over $526m in damaged or destroyed aircraft.
- Marine AV-8B Harrier jet that crashed off the East Coast during takeoff in May – $62.8m.
- Two Marine CH-53 helicopters crashed in Hawaii in January killing 12 Marines.
- Estimates put the cost of the crash at nearly $110m.
- The Army had 19 Class A aviation accidents resulting in 6 fatalities from October 2014 to October 2015.
- 4 soldiers lost their lives when a UH-60 Blackhawk crashed near Fort Hood, Texas.