The US military has a helicopter problem. In 2014, ten American servicemen were killed in helicopter-related accidents. That figure was tripled in 2015 (and included one of your author's high school classmates), and has already been surpassed less than a month into 2016, after 12 marines were killed when their two CH-53's collided off Hawaii's North Shore. Arguably the most disturbing trend here, though, is that almost all of these deaths have been part of training missions on US soil.
That's finally triggered an investigation by Marine Corps brass over the impact of cuts to maintenance and training budgets. Citing a senior official, Stars and Stripes claims both Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis and Commandant Gen. Robert Neller are involved.
According to the report, blame is being placed on the pace of wartime operations. With so many forces deploying, priority for training operations is given to those units, rather than squadrons stationed in the United States. That issue is confounded by larger maintenance budget cuts that have left fewer aircraft for pilots to train on. Stars and Stripes reports that 20 percent of the Corps' helo allotment isn't flight ready.
"It's not a direct one-for-one correlation, but once you go below 15 hours [a month] per pilot, that's when you see real degradation in performance," retired USMC Maj. Carl Forsling told S&S. With 2015 flight requirements at just 16.5 hours for the CH-53 Super Stallion (shown above) and 16.8 hours for the MV-22 Osprey, flight time is "just above the bare minimums for safety...there's not a lot of wiggle room," Forsling said.
Head over to Stars and Stripes for the full report on this frustrating situation.