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Lawmaker pushes for new commission on military aviation safety

F-15K Slam Eagles from the South Korean air force's 11th Tactical Fighter Wing out of Daegu Air Base, fly with an F-16 Fighting Falcon March 11 over Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. The three aircraft were participating in the Buddy Wing program, an operation designed to increase U.S. Air Force and South Korean air force interoperability. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Colbert)

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., introduced legislation Monday to create an independent National Commission on Military Aviation Safety in response to a series of deadly aircraft crashes in the last year.

The commission would review military aviation mishaps from 2013 and 2018, compare trends to historical data, assess causes fueling the crashes and make recommendations on safety, training, maintenance, personnel and other policies related to military aviation safety, Smith’s office said.

“It is time to establish an independent National Commission on Military Aviation Safety, so that we can understand exactly what causes are contributing to military aviation accidents, how current rates compare to historic averages, and what steps we can take to improve military aviation safety,” said Smith, the ranking Democrat for the House Armed Services Committee. “It is essential for our aviators and their families—as well as for our military’s ability to recruit, retain, and perform its mission — that Congress have an authoritative, objective, apolitical look at the causes of this problem so that we can figure out what is going wrong and what actions need to be taken.”

Smith is proposing the legislation be added as an amendment to the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which directs policy and spending plans for the Defense Department. Discussions for the House Armed Services Committee’s NDAA are underway, with a hearing slated Wednesday for the panel to push out its proposal for the defense policy plan.

On Friday, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, proposed $639.1 billion in a military base budget, in addition to another $69 billion for a war chest called the Overseas Contingency Fund. It followed plans unveiled a week earlier by several House panels that laid out the first wave of spending proposals and policies for the next NDAA.

In recent weeks, the House Armed Services Committee, its subpanels and its Senate counterparts have held dozens of hearings to discuss the 2019 priorities for each of the branches as well as a wide-ranging list of challenges facing the military.

Smith’s effort comes on the heels of a crash last week of an Air Force C-130 Hercules used by the Puerto Rico Air National Guard. The cargo plane crashed in Savannah, Ga., killing all nine Guard members on board.

It was the latest in a long string of aircraft mishaps. In the last month, at least seven military aircraft have crashed, leaving 16 servicemembers dead.

Despite the string of fatal aircraft mishaps that have spanned all four branches of the military, Defense Department officials have insisted military aviation is not facing an emergency.

“This is not a crisis,” Pentagon Press Secretary Dana White said last week.

White told reporters at the Pentagon that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is confident the leadership in each of the military services is committed to proper investigations of aviation crashes and implementing changes that those probes determine necessary.

Not all of the recent crashes have obvious links, White said. Nonetheless, she implored lawmakers to ensure full funding of the Pentagon in the future. Several lawmakers have placed the blame for aviation and other fatal mishaps on funding shortfalls in recent years due to sequestration and abbreviated, temporary defense budgets known as continuing resolutions. Pentagon officials have said they were uncertain the issues were directly linked.

Air Force officials have pledged to determine the cause of incidents, but they also have noted the service in 2017 recorded near-historic low rates of the most serious aviation mishaps, which cause more than $2 million in damage or fatality or permanently injure personnel.

Staff reporter Corey Dickstein contributed to this report.



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