A significant increase in the number of deaths in military helicopter crashes over the last year has led Marine commanders to probe whether budget cuts are endangering troops with their effects on maintenance and training.
Twelve helicopter crashes killed 30 service members last year, a death toll that was three times that which resulted from helicopter crashes in 2014. The deaths have largely occurred during training missions at home stations.
Stars and Stripes reported:
Cuts by Congress and the White House to funds used by the Marines and other services to pay for flight time and helicopter repairs means that there may not be enough air-worthy aircraft available for nondeployed units to train safely. For the Marines, for example, almost one-fifth of their helicopters aren’t available due to maintenance requirements. In addition, because nondeploying units spend less time in the air, their training opportunities become even more dangerous, former Marine Corps and Navy pilots say.
Marine Corps commandant Gen. Robert Neller and deputy Marine commandant for aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis are reportedly looking into what has caused the spike in helicopter crashes.
Retired Cmdr. Chris Harmer told Stars and Stripes that there is a direct correlation between the reduced flight time and the increased number of deaths from helicopter crashes.
"There is no doubt whatsoever that reduced flying hours equal increased [accidents] and fatalities," Harmer said. He further stated that the kind of flying for which helicopters units undergo training "is highly calibrated and coordinated. If you lose currency it is extremely difficult and dangerous to regain it."
The military has endured an approximately 30 percent cut in funding for operations and maintenance between fiscal years 2012 and 2016, according to an estimate from the American Enterprise Institute.
Service members have continued to lose their lives in helicopters crashes into 2016. Earlier this month, two CH-53 helicopters, each carrying six Marines, crashed off the coast of Hawaii during a nighttime training mission. After a five-day search effort, the Marine Corps changed the status of the missing service members to deceased.
Both aircraft belonged to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing from Marine Corps Base Hawaii.