Navy Secretary: 'Not enough data' to link lack of funding to aircraft accidents

Navy Secretary: 'Not enough data' to link lack of funding to aircraft accidents
© Keren Carrion

The heads of the Navy and Marine Corps on Wednesday would not connect a lack of military funding over the years to a string of recent aviation incidents, pointing to a lack of information.

“There is not enough data right now to tell you that there’s an exact correlation,” Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer told reporters during a Pentagon briefing.

He did add that a larger military budget in 2018 will allow pilots more training hours.

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“We are training people to the requirements necessary. Those additive hours that people have in the cockpit or doing their jobs are only going to help. So now we have the funds to do that.”

Spencer had been asked whether military leaders attribute a recent uptick in aircraft and ship crashes to a lack of funding thanks to past budget caps, something that lawmakers have pointed to following numerous mishaps in the past year.

The most recent aircraft incident — a C-130 Hercules crash near an airport in Savannah, Ga. — happened only hours before the briefing. 

The Savannah-based 165th Airlift Wing said the plane — which was an Air National Guard aircraft out of Puerto Rico — was carrying five people and went down while performing a training mission. At least two people were confirmed killed.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller also spoke at the briefing saying funding “is affecting the number of airplanes that are ready and the number of hours we can fly,” but declining to link a lack of dollars to the crashes.  

“There’s not one single thing. You can’t say ‘it’s because of this,’ ” Neller said. “We need more hours, we need better part support, we need new airplanes, we’ve got to improve our procedures, we got to stop doing stuff on the ground that causes us to lose otherwise perfectly good airplane and we need to train and it’s a dangerous business.”

Neller also said the last deadly C-130 crash — a July 2017 crash that killed 16 people aboard a Marine C-130 in rural Mississippi — was not found to be a funding issue.

“I think we have a pretty good idea of what happened to our airplane last year. In that particular case, I'm not sure funding would have changed the outcome,” Neller said.

“I'm not going to talk about it because the families have just been informed, but that was a mechanical issue,” he added.

Last month, a Marine AV-8B Harrier jet crashed at Djibouti Ambouli International Airport, with the pilot ejecting. Hours later, a Marine CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter suffered structural damage during a landing. Both incidents happened during Alligator Dagger, an annual amphibious exercise off the coast of Djibouti, and are under investigation.

And in March, a Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet crashed off the coast of Key West, Fla., killing the two pilots.

The same week, four Marines were killed in a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crash in Southern California.

Two Navy pilots also died in October when their T-45 training aircraft crashed in Tennessee.

In November, a Navy transporter plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean near Japan, leaving three dead.