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Military Mishaps Have Claimed as Many Lives as Vegas Attack: Lawmaker

  • The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) steers toward Changi Naval Base in Singapore on Aug. 21, following a collision with a merchant ship east of the Straits of Malacca. (US Navy photo/Joshua Fulton)
    The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) steers toward Changi Naval Base in Singapore on Aug. 21, following a collision with a merchant ship east of the Straits of Malacca. (US Navy photo/Joshua Fulton)
  • The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald sits in Dry Dock 4 at Fleet Activities Yokosuka to continue repairs and assess damage sustained from its June 17, 2017 collision with a merchant vessel. (U.S. Navy photo/Christian Senyk)
    The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald sits in Dry Dock 4 at Fleet Activities Yokosuka to continue repairs and assess damage sustained from its June 17, 2017 collision with a merchant vessel. (U.S. Navy photo/Christian Senyk)
  • Eric Schultz, then an Air Force captain, became the 28th pilot to fly the F-35 when he took off from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in F-35A AF-1 for a 1.3-hour test mission on 15 September 2011. (Lockheed Martin Photo by Darin Russell)
    Eric Schultz, then an Air Force captain, became the 28th pilot to fly the F-35 when he took off from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in F-35A AF-1 for a 1.3-hour test mission on 15 September 2011. (Lockheed Martin Photo by Darin Russell)

Both the U.S. Navy and Air Force have seen a troubling number of accidents this year.

While root causes have yet to be discovered, one thing is clear, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday: The Defense Department and Congress aren't giving the problem as much scrutiny as they should.

"Give or take five, we have lost as many service members in 2017 to [military-related] accidents as were killed in Las Vegas," Rep. William "Mac" Thornberry told reporters and experts during a briefing at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. The current death toll in Las Vegas is 58, with more than 500 wounded.

"And many more that have been killed in combat. So I was very serious when describing a moral obligation," the Texas Republican said. "I think Congress and the department have to provide the best training, the best equipment, the best support for the people who are risking their lives for us -- and I don't think we have been giving them this."

Thornberry said empirical trends of training and combat accidents are "going up," but cautioned they can't be easily compared or contrasted.

"The trends are not exactly the same in every service, and sometimes they'll pick out a certain category," he said.

For example, Thornberry said he's followed the Air Force's accident trend, which he said "has not gone up, and the reason is because the Air Force is not flying as much."

"The number of hours in the cockpit that their pilots are getting are less than they were in the hollow military in the 1970s," he said.

The Air Force has seen several accidents this year:

The Navy has suffered multiple ship collisions this year:

The Marine Corps lost 16 troops when a KC-130T transport aircraft crashed in Mississippi in July.

The Navy's problems aren't limited to ship collisions.

Ongoing mishaps with the service's T-45 Goshawk training aircraft continue to puzzle officials, especially in the wake of the most recent crash this week in which a student pilot and an instructor died during a training flight in Tennessee.

"This T-45 [or]deal perplexes me," Thornberry said. "We lost another one this week, [and] I have no doubt the Navy is taking that issue seriously, but … I don't understand why we can't figure out what's causing the oxygen problem to fix it."

All 170 of the service's T-45s were grounded after instructor pilots complained about aircraft safety in light of a surge of hypoxia-like incidents.

"Now we don't know if the oxygen problem is what caused this crisis," Thornberry said, referencing the crash in Tennessee.

"Part of the issue is, it takes weeks and months to do investigations of airplanes. I'm just beginning to understand this -- that there is a cumulative effect here," he said. "I cannot flip a switch and put zillions more dollars into operations and maintenance and make this go away."

"It's cumulative, it occurs over time, and the training you lose will never be regained," he added.

"It didn't just spring up on us this year, but it is the cumulative effect of budget dysfunction, some mismanagement, and some ignoring what's happening that has brought us to this point," Thornberry said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.