Aviation Accidents: Coincidence or Something Else?

NGAUS Washington Report
April 10, 2018

When an AH-64 Apache helicopter crashed Friday at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, killing two Army aviators, it was the military’s fourth aircraft crash in four days involving aircraft. An F-16 from the Air Force’s Thunderbirds had crashed in Nevada, killing the pilot, two days earlier. One day before that, four Marines died in the crash of a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter in California, the same day a Marine AV-8B Harrier crashed in Djibouti. The pilot ejected and survived.

The accidents continue an upward trend in military aviation mishaps. A Military Times investigation published this week found a 40 percent rise in accidents—a total of 5,500—involving military aircraft from fiscal 2013 through fiscal 2017. The crashes included about 4,000 involving manned aircraft that claimed 133 lives. The numbers involving manned aircraft went from 656 in 2013 to 909 in 2017.

That period coincides with the budget cuts approved by Congress in 2013 known as sequestration. And some people believe there is a connection.

“We are reaping the benefits—or the tragedies—that we got into back in sequestration,” retired Gen. Herbert Carlisle, the former commander of Air Combat Command, told the publication. He said the increase is “actually a lagging indicator. By the time you’re having accidents . . . then you’ve already gone down a path.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Saturday in a statement about recent crashes, “What has been evident to me for some time is now becoming clear to the American people. The readiness of our military is at a crisis point.”

He said the recent approval of a budget increase begins to turn the crisis around.

The Air Force is looking into less serious mishaps known as Class C, said Gen. Stephen Wilson, the Air Force vice chief of staff.

“We’ve got our safety professionals digging into it and seeing if there is a noticeable trend that we have in our Class C mishaps,” he said during a Future of War Conference put on by New America and Arizona State University. He said those accidents have been trending up and are a concern to the service.

“Any Class A accident [which involve deaths, injuries or massive damage to the aircraft] is one too many,” he said. “The safest year was 2014 and 2017 was our second safest year, so Class A mishaps have been trending down.”

Last week, Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the Joint Staff director, told reporters at the Pentagon, “I would reject ‘wave’ and ‘crisis.’ Those are mishaps that occurred. We’re going to look into each one in turn. . . . I’m certainly not prepared to say that it’s a wave of mishaps or some sort of crisis.”