Today, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing, top military officials sounded the alarm about the rising number of major military aircraft accidents that can be traced to reduced training hours and maintenance backlogs that have grounded many aircraft. The military has cut essential training, including for pilots, as a result of the billions in defense cuts since 2010. The answers came after Chairman Thornberry asked about the significant increase in “Class A Mishap” rates which involve loss of life or damage of more than $2 million to an aircraft. Concerns are growing louder and more frequent about the real-life consequences of cuts to personnel, training, equipment and other military resources as the security situation around the world becomes more precarious by the day.
You can view some of the media stories outlining the serious concerns below. To view the entire Committee exchange between Chairman Thornberry and Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller and Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley, please click on the video below.
"The Marine Corps and Army on Wednesday pointed to tight budgets and a lack of training to explain increases in catastrophic and fatal aircraft incidents during the past few years."
"Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine commandant, and Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, were questioned during a House budget hearing about the growing number of aviation mishaps, which included the crash of two Marine helicopters in Hawaii in January that killed 12 people. Both explained the upticks by saying funding shortfalls have led to less training than needed, a factor that defense experts have suspected."
"As far as our ability to meet the National Military Strategy, our ability to meet the day-to-major day commitments and requirements of the Combatant Commanders, we’re doing that with trained and ready forces. Our ability to meet other regional requirements for major contingency plans, we would be able to do that, but we would probably not be able to do it within the timeframe that the current plans call for us to arrive to participate in that conflict."
"The top Army and Marine Corps generals say they're concerned about an increasing number of major military aircraft accidents."
"During congressional testimony Wednesday, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller says part of the problem is that his service doesn't have enough aircraft to meet the training requirements for the entire force."
"Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, says the spike has gotten his attention."
HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE HEARING MARCH 16, 2016
Chairman Thornberry: "General Neller, I have asked for the statistics for the Marine Corps on Class A mishap rates, and my understanding is the average over the last ten years was 2.15 mishaps per 100,00 flying hours. But, that went up in 2014 to 2.67, in 15 to 2.88, and in 16 to 3.96. So, the point is over the last three years especially, the number of Class A mishaps per 100,000 flying hours has been increasing significantly. Given this readiness and safety issue, and the budget constraints and all that the Marine Corps is being asked to do operationally, can the Marine Corps meet the demands on the National Military Strategy?"
General Neller: "Chairman, let me first comment on the aviation. We track this very closely and the simple fact is that we don’t have enough airplanes to meet the training requirements for the entire Force, the Force that’s deployed is trained and ready and it’s a little bit different for every model, type, and series. So, we are working on this and not all of this is related to aviation maintenance, some of these events. But, it is a fact that our mishap rate has gone up. As far as our ability to meet the National Military Strategy our ability to meet the day-to-major day commitments and requirements of the Combatant Commanders, we’re doing that with trained and ready forces. Our ability to meet other regional requirements for major contingency plans, we would be able to do that, but we would probably not be able to do it within the timeframe that the current plans call for us to arrive to participate in that conflict."
Chairman Thornberry: "General Milley, the numbers for the Army are not quite as dramatic, but they are also on an upward trend, rising from 1.52 in Fiscal Year 14 to 1.99—just about 2—in Fiscal Year 16. Let me ask you the same question: can the Army meet the demands of the National Military Strategy?"
General Milley: "Thanks, Chairman. On the Class A piece, it has our attention. We’ve asked for the Deputy Commander at TRADOC to conduct a multi-functional, very detailed study of Class A aviation accidents. One of the things you’ll see in this budget is we are increasing training hours for our rotary wing aviators from 10 hours to 12 hours. Ideally, we want them to 15 hours month. We can’t get there with the budget to 14 or 15, but we are going to increase it to 12. But, we’re going to have more data here in probably a month or so and we will share that with you as soon as we get it. But, it does have our concern. Our aircraft accidents have increased and we are very concerned about it.
On the second question, it is my estimate that, similar to General Neller’s, that on a day-to-day basis, the Army does about 46% of all the Combatant Commander demand signal that comes in, and 64% of emergent demand from the Combatant Command is done by the Army. We can handle that on a day-to-day basis. We have also very good current capability and capacity to fight the counter-terrorist/counter-insurgency fight that is ongoing against ISIS and other areas such as Afghanistan. So, we’ve got those skills sets. My concern, going forward, is at the higher end in the event of a contingency, and if that were to happen, I have grave concerns in terms of the readiness of our Force—the Army forces—to be able to deal with that in a timely manner. And I think the cost, both in terms of time, casualties in troops, and the ability to accomplish military objectives would be very significant and we’ve all given our risk assessment associated with that in a classified session."