At the beginning of this month, five incidents involving U.S. military aircraft over the span of just one week prompted questions about the status of the readiness of the American military. The aircraft involved were as diverse as the incidents that downed them, but some trends appeared to be apparent: primarily that many of these incidents, as well as a number of others, could have been avoided through either improved maintenance or training — both troubled endeavors that can be directly tied to budgetary issues.
Since Defense Secretary James Mattis was appointed, readiness has been at the forefront of his efforts, but this year saw yet another delayed budget approval, forcing the American military apparatus to operate without a functional budget for months on end, and delaying new maintenance or training initiatives from being put into place. The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act was signed into law by President Trump in December for a fiscal year that began on November 1st – marking the 9th consecutive year lawmakers have failed to fund the military, despite ongoing combat operations, until long after it was required of them.
The rest of this month has continued to be troubling one for U.S. military aircraft, with five more incidents that have put American military personnel at risk. Although one of these incidents can be chalked up to little more than bad luck, the others are more troubling. When looking at these crashes individually, one can be tempted to attribute elements of each to coincidence, but as the aircraft begin to pile up, it becomes increasingly dangerous to assume that all of these crashes are isolated incidents with no underlying trends contributing to them.
An Air Force F-16 crashes near Lake Havasu on Tuesday
Reports are still sketchy regarding this incident, but there are some details that can be gleaned from the little information the Air Force has provided thus far. The F-16, which was based out of Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, was apparently attempting to make an emergency landing at a small airport near Lake Havasu in the same state. It seems as though the F-16 may have run out of runway in the effort, forcing the pilot to eject. Local reports indicate that the pilot walked away from the wreck under his own power, though SOFREP has been unable to independently verify at this time.
A Marine Corps F-35 forced to make an emergency landing in Japan on Tuesday
Again, details remain limited regarding the circumstances that forced a U.S. Marine Corps F-35 pilot to declare a state of emergency and land the advanced 5th generation fighter at a Japanese Air Self-Defense Force base in the Fukuoka Prefecture of western Japan. The aircraft left from Iwakuni Air Station in the Yamaguchi Prefecture but soon experienced “problems involving part of its body” according to a statement made by Japanese officials. Early reports indicate that the pilot was able to walk away from the landing unharmed.
A Blue Angel F/A-18 Hornet suffers a bird strike during show on Saturday
Unlike the other incidents on this list, a bird strike is a fairly common, if unlucky, threat posed to all aircraft. In this instance, Blue Angels’ No. 5 Hornet had a bird fly directly into the aircraft’s engine during an air show demonstration on Vero Beach in Florida. The pilot was able to maintain control of the aircraft and land it safely, though damages are roughly estimate to exceed $1 million to repair.
You can see the bird strike happen in the video below:
Two F-22s suffered engine-related emergencies within days of one another in Alaska
On April 6th, a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor flying out of Tyndall Air Force Base in Alaska suffered an engine failure that forced an emergency landing, though the aircraft was able to land safely. Just days later, another F-22 from the same squadron, the Alaska-based 3rd Wing, suffered another catastrophic engine failure on take off. This time, the pilot was unable to recover the aircraft and it belly flopped on the runway, causing damage that the Air Force has characterized as “extensive.” A similar incident that occurred in 2012 cost upwards of $35 million to repair and took six years to repair.
Feature image courtesy of Facebook