After 5 Deaths In 2 Days, US Military Aviation Is In A Full-Blown Crisis

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Within just 48 hours this week, four military aircraft crashed — unrelated incidents, but a cluster of disasters that is becoming depressingly familiar.


Four Marines died when their CH-53 Super Stallion crashed during training. A Marine AV-8B crashed during take-off and a Marine CH-53E was damaged during a landing in Djibouti. And then an Air Force F-16 Thunderbird crashed, killing the pilot.

The back-to-back crashes prompted Djibouti to ground all U.S. military aircraft, resulting in the U.S. cancelling the rest of an exercise in that country.

The weeks before were hardly any less grim. Eleven service members were killed in March in two separate crashes involving an Air Force Pave Hawk HH-60 and a Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet. Some experts believe the military’s straining operational pace is fueling the aviation crisis.

This recent spate of crashes is not even the deadliest in recent history: Last July, 15 Marines and a sailor were killed when an aging Marine Corps KC-130T tanker crashed in Mississippi. Less than a month later, another three Marines died when their MV-22B Osprey went down off Australia.

Military pilots are flying aging planes and helicopters that have been used constantly since 2001 – many of which should have been retired years ago. And the new planes designed to replace them have been beset with delays and ballooning costs.

U.S. military pilots are at risk as they fly old battle-worn aircraft, said Todd Harrison, an aerospace expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington.

The numbers of mishaps for certain types of aircraft have been increasing in recent years, Harrison told Task & Purpose on Thursday.

“I think the high op tempo and stress on the force over the past 17 years of continuous combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere is catching up to the U.S. military,” Harrison said.

At a Pentagon press conference on Thursday, one reporter asked if the recent wave of crashes shows that the U.S. military is facing an aviation crisis.

“I would reject ‘wave’ and ‘crisis,’” said Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., director the Joint Staff. “We are going to look at each one in turn. Each one is tragic. We regret each one. I’m certainly not prepared to say it’s a wave of mishaps or some form of crisis.”

The Pentagon will look at each crash in detail to see if any systemic problems or maintenance issues are affecting military aviation, McKenzie said, adding that he was unaware of any widespread issues. However, he acknowledged that having six crashes in such a short period of time is not normal.

One risk military pilots face as they fly older aircraft is that budget cuts have forced the military branches to invest less in maintenance, said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Darren Sorenson, a former F-15 pilot.

“While the maintainers who work on these aircraft as some of the best in the world, they can only do so much with the spare parts they’ve been given,” Sorenson said in an email to Task & Purpose.  “One only has to the look at the readiness rates of the aircraft to see that more and more of them are not in a combat ready, or even flyable condition.

“Maintainers often have to go take a part from one (or more) working aircraft to fix another.  It’s a constantly revolving shell game. It adds unnecessary work and risk to an already heavily tasked platform.”

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Moments before Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia went back into the house, journalist Michael Ware said he was "pacing like a caged tiger ... almost like he was talking to himself."

"I distinctly remember while everybody else had taken cover temporarily, there out in the open on the street — still exposed to the fire from the roof — was David Bellavia," Ware told Task & Purpose on Monday. "David stopped pacing, he looked up and sees that the only person still there on the street is me. And I'm just standing there with my arms folded.

"He looked up from the pacing, stared straight into my eyes, and said 'Fuck it.' And I stared straight back at him and said 'Fuck it,'" Ware said. "And that's when I knew, we were both going back in that house."

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(Photo courtesy of Philip Stackhouse)

Former Army Special Forces Maj. Matthew Golsteyn will plead not guilty to a charge of murder for allegedly shooting an unarmed Afghan man whom a tribal leader had identified as a Taliban bomb maker, his attorney said.

Golsteyn will be arraigned on Thursday morning at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Phillip Stackhouse told Task & Purpose.

No date has been set for his trial yet, said Lt. Col. Loren Bymer, a spokesman for U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

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Taran Tactical Innovations

John Wick is back, and he's here to stay. It doesn't matter how many bad guys show up to try to collect on that bounty.

With John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, the titular hitman, played by 54-year-old Keanu Reeves, continues on a blood-soaked hyper-stylized odyssey of revenge: first for his slain dog, then his wrecked car, then his destroyed house, then ... well, honestly it's hard to keep track of exactly what Wick is avenging by this point, or the body count he's racked up in the process.

Though we do know that the franchise has raked in plenty of success at the box office: just a week after it's May 17 release, the third installment in director Chad Stahleski's series took in roughly $181 million, making it even more successful than its two wildly popular prequels 2014's John Wick, and 2017's John Wick: Chapter 2.

And, more importantly, Reeves' hitman is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest action movie heroes in recent memory. Few (if any) other action flicks have succeeded in creating a mind-blowing avant garde ballet out of a dozen well-dressed gunmen who get shot, choked, or stabbed with a pencil by a pissed off hitman who just wants to return to retirement.

But for all the over-the-top acrobatics, fight sequences, and gun-porn (see: the sommelier), what makes the series so enthralling, especially for the service members and vets in the audience, is that there are some refreshing moments of realism nestled under all of that gun fu. Wrack your brain and try to remember the last time you saw an action hero do a press check during a shootout, clear a jam, or actually, you know, reload, instead of just hip-firing 300 rounds from an M16 nonstop. It's cool, we'll wait.

As it turns out, there's a good reason for the caliber of gun-play in John Wick. One of the franchise's secret weapons is a professional three-gun shooter named Taran Butler, who told Task & Purpose he can draw and hit three targets in 0.67 seconds from 10 yards. And if you've watched any of the scores of videos he's uploaded to social media over the years, it's pretty clear that this isn't idle boasting.

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The Navy's electromagnetic railgun is undergoing what officials described as "essentially a shakedown" of critical systems before finally installing a tactical demonstrator aboard a surface warship, the latest sign that the once-beleaguered supergun may actually end up seeing combat.

That pretty much means this is could be the last set of tests before actually slapping this bad boy onto a warship, for once.

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(AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

The Justice Department has accused Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) of illegally using campaign funds to pay for extramarital affairs with five women.

Hunter, who fought in the Iraq War as a Marine artillery officer, and his wife Margaret were indicated by a federal jury on Aug. 21, 2018 for allegedly using up to $250,000 in campaign funds for personal use.

In a recent court filing, federal prosecutors accused Hunter of using campaign money to pay for a variety of expenses involved with his affairs, ranging from a $1,008 hotel bill to $7 for a Sam Adams beer.

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