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F/A-18 Crashes on Rise Due to Overused Plane, Undertrained Pilots

F/A-18 Crashes on Rise Due to Overused Plane, Undertrained Pilots

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 01 September 2016 02:45 PM

Budget cuts in the Navy and Marine Corps have led to loss of life during training exercises, according to Stars and Stripes.

Since May, two pilots were killed in four crashes of F/A-18 Hornet or F/A-18E/F Super Hornet involving planes that were not deployed in conflicts. Five planes were destroyed, the report said.

Military aviation accidents are rising overall for non-deployed squadrons, which receive the bulk of budget cuts so that the best aircraft and personnel can be on the front lines.

According to Stars and Stripes, one year ago, Navy and Marine Corps generals warned Congress that the budget cuts could cost lives. In 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act, and automatic cuts to spending started taking effect in 2013.

The Defense Department's operations and maintenance account lost $20.3 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office. That account pays for flight training and aircraft repairs. The cuts affected the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet.

Since 2012, accidents involving Hornets and Super Hornets rose 44 percent, according to the Naval Safety Center in Norfolk, VA.

"It's extremely clear what's happened. These aircraft have reached their life span and they continue to extend their life spans for another few thousand flight hours, which hasn't worked for them due to significant budget decreases. Yet they continue to run these jets that have caused catastrophic incidents," said Super Hornet pilot "Versace," who was asked to be identified by his call sign because he is not authorized to discuss the issue.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Chris Harmer said naval aviation is seriously at risk. "Either funding needs to be significantly increased in order to restore airframe availability and pilot proficiency and support current operations, or operational tempo needs to be drastically reduced," Harmer said.

Besides Hornets, the number of Navy and Marine aircraft lost in accidents has doubled during the first 11 months of fiscal year 2016 over fiscal year 2015, the report said. As of August 29, twenty aircrafts have been destroyed.

Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for Marine aviation, said in July that Hornet accident numbers looked worse because the service was flying fewer hours. "It's actually kind of on par where it has been in the past. Every mishap makes this bump up a lot," Davis said.

Combat demands on aircraft remain the priority, according to the Navy and the Marine Corps, which leads to fewer available hours for non-deployed pilots.

Rear Admiral Michael Manazir said that 11 hours is the minimum number a Navy pilot can fly and stay safe. Getting enough hours is key to being ready to fly, retired Col. John Venable told Stars and Stripes. "Flying is very volatile. Your ability to not have to think about the task at hand was all related to how often you flew," Venable said.

Increased use of aircraft has required more repairs and made fewer of them useful, according to the Navy and members of Congress. In April, Lt. Gen. Davis said that out of the Marines' 276 Hornets, 87 were available for missions.

Naval Air Forces Commander Jeannie Groeneveld said that out of the Navy's 259 Hornets, 55 were capable of performing "at least one and potentially all" of its mission assignments.

Groeneveld said the Navy is pushing Super Hornets to last for 8,000 hours of flight time. The F/A-18 Hornet was originally designed for 6,000 hours.

The Navy is considering buying more Super Hornets to last until the F-35 plane is ready. The Navy is expected to declare it ready in 2017, Stars and Stripes reports. 

"It will take time to recover from the significant challenges we have faced in recent years," Groeneveld said.

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Budget cuts in the Navy and Marine Corps have led to loss of life during training exercises, according to Stars and Stripes.
plane, crashes, marine, navy, fa-18
Thursday, 01 September 2016 02:45 PM
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