An independent commission to investigate military aviation crashes is coming

Matt Saintsing
May 09, 2018 - 3:02 pm

U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht

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A flurry of recent military aviation fatalities has spawned a Congressional commission to investigate the root cause.

The new commission suggested by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, was added to the annual National Defense Authorization Act Wednesday. The commission will investigate and review military aviation mishaps over the past five years, and will make safety recommendations to Congress.

An amendment proposed by committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), will direct the commission to look into episodes of hypoxia that many military aviators, mostly Navy, say have beleaguered their aircraft and has led to several groundings.

Some on Capitol Hill have long-argued that defense spending caps imposed by Congress in recent years have fueled an epidemic of deadly aviation crashes, including a WC-130 crash last week that led to the deaths of nine airmen assigned to the 156th Airlift Wing of the Puerto Rico National Guard.

“The money is certainly part of it,” said Smith. “I want to figure out the entire picture, get every answer we can to ensure that we are creating the safest possible environment for the men and women in our armed services.”

Eight appointed lawmakers would be tasked to compare the rates of military aircraft accidents between 2013 and 2018, compared to historic accidents. In other words, the commission wants to know if the automatic spending cuts have proven to be fatal to those who fly in the friendly American skies during training.

The U.S. Air Force announced a mandatory safety review for each of its aviation units following a series of deadly crashes that have killed 18 American airmen since last fall. However, the military aviation crisis spans across all services.

Smith’s and Thornberry’s actions goes directly against senior military leaders and the Pentagon have repeatedly said they don’t believe a crisis exists.

“No-one should deny this is a problem, no-one should delay fixing the problem, and part of the responsibility is on our shoulders,” Thornberry said. “There’s are all sort of issues, damage that’s been done at a variety of levels.”

An extensive review by the Military Times finds 5,500 aviation accidents have occurred since 2013, the same year automatic budgets cuts, also known as sequestration went into effect.

“It is disturbing to me that there are some people in the Pentagon who even today say well it’s not really a crisis, each of these have individual underlying causes. My point is, we still have work to do,” he added.