ORLANDO – A decline in long-term maintenance planning is a major contributor to an alarming spike in military aviation accidents in the last few years, according to a former top Pentagon official.
The comments come as all three of the U.S. armed services report a drastic increase in non-combat related aviation accidents, many of them fatal. From 2014 to 2017 non-combat related incidents rose 60%, and already in 2018 those incidents are up 50% from 2017.
In the last three weeks, six military aviation crashes have killed 16 pilots or crew, including the fatal crash of an Air Force Thunderbirds F-16.
The increase is often linked to massive congressional budget cuts of 2013. But John Johns, former assistant undersecretary of defense for maintenance and currently director of strategy and global relations technology service at Northrop Grumman, pointed to a more fundamental problem.
Rather than a lack of funding, Johns believes the “overwhelming” amount of money allocated to the Pentagon through the Overseas Contingency Account (OCO) for combat operations has “made us a bit lazy,” he said April 10 at the annual MRO Americas conference
As a result, the military has abandoned basic maintenance strategies in the last 15 years that the U.S. has been engaged in the Middle East. Instead of long-term maintenance planning, the military has shifted to an “inspect and repair only as necessary” approach – using the “excuse” that operators need to turn assets around rapidly to get them back in the fight, Johns said.
This has resulted in a significant decline in readiness of the force over the last decade, Johns said. More aircraft are out of reporting, sitting in depots waiting for repair, and there has been a sharp increase in non-combat-related incidents.
“I’m not saying it’s all related to this, but it is certainly a contributing factor – when we do maintenance, repair and overhaul based on what we find is required at the time of the repair, as opposed to looking at what is required over the next five years, or between that cycle of repair and the next induction,” Johns said.