‘War machine can’t run forever’: US military aircraft mishaps up nearly 40 percent over last 5 years
A six-month investigation by the Military Times has revealed that 5,500 aviation accidents occurred between 2013 and 2017, killing 133 US service members. The vast majority – approximately 4,000 – of the mishaps involved the US military’s fleet of manned warplanes: its bombers, fighter aircraft, cargo aircraft, refuelers, helicopters and tiltrotors, according to the Military Times.
656 aircraft mishaps were reported in 2013, but that figure had jumped to 909 by 2017 – a staggering 39 percent increase in just five years. For some aircraft, such as the Navy and Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets, the number of accidents has actually doubled, the Military Times reported, citing data it collected through Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests.
The 5,500 accidents ranged in severity, from a Class C, which designates a nonfatal mishap leading to $500,000 or less in damages, to a Class A, which involves fatalities or permanent disabilities and aircraft that suffer $2 million in damages or are completely destroyed.
The steep rise in accidents has been blamed, at least in part, on budget and personnel cuts, as well as aircraft and crew that have been strained by non-stop deployments.
“Hopefully someone in Congress will wake up and realize things are bad and getting worse,” said one active duty Air Force maintainer who spoke with the Military Times. “The war machine is like any other machine and cannot run forever. After 17 years of running this machine at near capacity, the tank is approaching empty.”
According to the Military Times, the military chose to cut experienced maintenance personnel rather than scale back costly weapons programs, in the wake of 2013 budget cuts.
“Look at the federal budget and tell me that the money isn’t there,” the Air Force maintainer told the paper. “There is plenty of money there. Plenty. It’s how they choose to spend it that needs to be analyzed and micromanaged, because military leaders have failed us, in more ways than one.”
The spike in accidents “is your early warning,” Todd Harrison, the director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Times.
“That’s your warning that there’s a problem and you need to do something before something bad happens. It‘s like a canary in a coal mine.”
In the last three weeks alone, six US military aircraft crashes have killed 16 service members.
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