This week, a U.S. Air National Guardsman and a Ukrainian pilot were killed when an Su-27UB Flanker-C fighter crashed in Ukraine’s Khmelnytskyi region during Exercise Clear Sky. The accident was one of a series of crashes largely caused by aging US air cargo.
A feature article by Air Force Times writer Steve Losey, and Tara Copp for the Military Times, chronicled how congressional budget cuts of 2013 have caused accident rates to climb over the last five years across all platforms; army, navy and aviation.
The reporters noted that Class C mishaps rose from 808 in 2013 to 1,055 in 2017. Class A mishaps — the very worst — climbed 17 percent in the same time frame, from 71 accidents in 2013 to 83 accidents in 2017. At least 133 service members died.
Early 2013, President Obama and Congress rationalized the military needed less money following the 2011 deployment of forces in Iraq, so it slashed $50 billion over 10 months. Each division chose its own trimmings. Most chose to fire personnel which resulted in low morale between 2013 and 2015.
“We were cutting people. We were cutting billets and those positions that are very important as you build into the future,” former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told newspaper MilitaryTimes. “The consistency of that quality of people, the consistency of the training and preparation, it matters, and it will show up later.”
At the same time, the Navy stopped training for months, making the defense divisions further vulnerable to accidents.
According to an online database of Class A through Class C accidents that occurred since 2011, all four divisions suckered the blow, but the Navy and Marine Corps felt the budget cuts the hardest.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
On February 9, Congress passed a two-year budget deal handing the DoD $700 billion for 2018 and a further $716 billion for 2019. But that’s dismally small for a military where the lives of its troops are at stake.
“Hopefully someone in Congress will wake up and realize things are bad and getting worse.” One active duty Air Force maintainer opined, “The war machine is like any other machine, and cannot run forever. After 17 years of running this machine at near capacity, the tank is approaching empty.”