The Military's Aviation Crisis Is Definitely 'Not A Crisis,' Pentagon Insists

Bullet Points

Less than a week after nine Puerto Rico National Guard airmen with the 156th Airlift Wing were killed in the crash of their WC-130 in Savannah, Georgia, the Department of Defense is really sticking to its talking point that no, there is no military aviation crisis, and yes, everything is just fine, thanks!

  • "This is not a crisis," Pentagon Press Secretary Dana White said told reporters on May 3. “But it is a crisis for each of these families, and we owe them a full investigation, and to understand what’s going on. But these are across services, and these are different individuals and different circumstances."
  • "We’re not out of the norm at all," Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told reporters on May 2 regarding Navy aviation mishaps just hours after the WC-130 crash.
  • Bullshit. A thorough Military Times investigation reveals that both the number of Class A military aviation mishaps and service members killed hit a six-year high this year, with 35 pilots and aircrew lost in 12 fatal accidents since the start of the fiscal year back in October. Indeed, aviation mishaps increased by a whopping 40% between fiscal 2013 and 2017.

Flames and smoke rise from an Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane after it crashed near Savannah, Ga., Wednesday, May 2, 2018.Associated Press/James Lavine

  • Aviation mishaps currently kill more troops than Afghanistan. As T&P;'s Paul Szoldra observed back last month, Class A aviation mishaps claimed the lived of 47 service members between April 2017 and April 2018; that's 50% more than the 31 troops who died while serving in Afghanistan under Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
  • Trend? What trend? Playing dumb won't satisfy lawmakers. During an intense House Armed Services Committee hearing on aviation mishaps on April 12, Naval Air Systems Command chief Vice. Adm. Paul Grosklags insisted that "each one of those mishaps will have a unique cause, so there’s not a universal panacea" — a claim lawmakers quickly rebuked.
  • I don’t buy that ― that it is merely just individual incidences,” Rep. Mike Turner, Republican from Ohio and chairman of the HASC subcommittee on tactical air and land forces, responded to Grosklags. “If you have vehicular accidents that occur at a particular intersection repeatedly, they each have their own story. But, at times, there is something wrong with the intersection.”

White and Spencers' lines mesh nicely with Secretary of Defense James Mattis' March 2017 guidance, which suggests DoD spinmasters “be cautious about publicly telegraphing readiness shortfalls" in the name of operational security: "While it can be tempting during budget season to publicly highlight readiness problems, we have to remember that our adversaries watch the news too."

Does OPSEC really trump acknowledging and addressing systemic aviation issues? I suspect those 9 airmen who died in that WC-130 crash last week might disagree — if they could.

Hospital Corpsman, 3rd Class, Jennifer Rooney, who was immediately promoted after selection through the Meritorious Promotion Program, was pinned in a ceremony Sept. 20, 2019, by her father, Robert Rooney, and grandfather, John Rooney. (U.S. Marine Corps/Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Molina)

A U.S.S. Manchester, CL-83, hat firmly tucked on his head, John Ronney, pierced the collar of his granddaughter, Jennifer Rooney's new rank during a special pinning ceremony at Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune on Sept. 25.

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