WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, made the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, on the Subcommittee's hearing titled “Department of Defense Aviation Safety Mishap Review and Oversight Process.” For testimony and to watch the hearing click here.
"The subcommittee meets today to receive testimony on the Department of Defense aviation safety mishap review and oversight process.
I’d like to welcome our distinguished panel of witnesses:
• Brigadier General David J. Francis, Commanding General of the Army Combat Readiness Center and Director of Army Safety,
• Rear Admiral Mark Leavitt, Commander of the Naval Safety Center, and
• Major General John T. Rauch Jr., Air Force Chief of Safety and Commander of Air Force Safety Center
I thank you all for your service and look forward to your important testimony today.
This hearing continues the subcommittee’s ongoing oversight of aviation modernization and readiness.
As I’ve stated before, we are experiencing a crisis in military readiness brought on by years of continuous combat operations combined with deferred modernization, lack of training hours, and aging equipment.
The alarming number of aviation accidents just in the past 3 months reveals how deep the damage goes and the magnitude of the task of repairing and rebuilding our capabilities.
According to a recent Military Times investigation, aviation mishaps rose nearly 40 percent from fiscal years 2013 to 2017 and nearly doubled for some aircraft.
Just this past weekend an F-15 aircraft assigned to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa crashed while performing routine training maneuvers. Fortunately the pilot survived. I believe this is the 6th Air Force related aircraft accident in the last 12 months.
Most concerning is that more U.S. military service members have died in aircraft mishaps over the past year than have died while serving in Afghanistan.
One of those service-members was a constituent of mine. Gunnery Sergeant Derik Holley was a 33-year old enlisted Marine and he was killed while conducting training missions in a CH-53E helicopter, a helicopter that has been in service since the 1970s.
Given this alarming trend, the hearing today will examine how the military services conduct investigations post-accident or mishap. We need to be assured the military services are adequately identifying the source and cause fast enough for us to be able to remedy them.
We specifically want to better understand the processes used by the Department and the military services to answer three fundamental questions regarding mishaps: what happened, why did this happen, and what changes and recommendations are being taken to prevent this from happening again.
The witnesses today are responsible for conducting investigations of service mishaps, identifying mishap causes and problem areas, and recommend mitigation actions. We have asked them to walk us through the steps they use to determine the root cause of aviation mishaps as well as how they communicate the results of these investigations to their senior leadership for action.
It is my understanding that military accident and investigation processes include a thorough review of the mishap aircraft, circumstances of the incident and personnel involved. Investigation of an automobile accident might use a similar process. But if repeated accidents are occurring at the same intersection, it seems most reasonable to examine the intersection itself for changes that need to be made such as signage, lighting, lane markings, or the number and adequacy of the lanes at the questionable intersection.
So I expect the witnesses to elaborate on how the military service safety centers collect and report mishap data to the Office of the Secretary of Defense as required by current policy to include data on the underlying factors that caused the mishaps. For example, I’d like to know whether the safety centers include information on human factors that contributed to the mishap, which according to DOD, represent the leading cause of DOD mishaps.
The hearing will also provide an opportunity to understand how lessons learned and recommendations from the outcomes of these investigations are informing changes to requirements for aircraft modernization in a timely manner.
Additionally, the hearing should help Members make a determination as to whether potential changes or reforms are needed in the overarching governance structure for the military safety enterprise.
Before I close, I want to briefly touch on the issue of aging equipment and the undetermined cause and effects this may be having pre-mishap. I’ve had recent discussions with the Secretary Air Force and this particular issue is a major concern of not only the Air Force but the Department as well. Our subcommittee will be taking a much closer examination of this issue going forward.
In closing, I am deeply concerned by the recent increase in aviation mishaps. When I’ve traveled to military bases and spoken to pilots and maintainers, I become more and more concerned that the military services are being too slow to respond.
We have to do whatever it takes to ensure that our aircraft are safe and that pilots get the training they need."