Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Mishap Rates

The National Commission on Military Aviation Safety (NCMAS) has published a report analyzing military mishaps for the last decade or so.  For those of you who, like me, have no idea who/what this organization is, it is a commission established by Congress in 2019 to examine the rates and causes of military aviation mishaps.


The report identifies the many causes in great detail though they have a tendency, I think, to emphasize funding over other causes.  Funding is an issue, certainly, but is a secondary one.


I’m not going to bother listing all the findings of the report.  They’re what you’d expect and you can read the details for yourself, if you’re so inclined.  Instead, I want to pick out a few key aspects and apply my own analysis.


The following table from the report shows the combined Class A-C mishap rates for the various services and shows that the Army and Air Force mishap rates from 2007 – 2018 have held steady, on average.  In contrast, the Navy rate increased steadily from 15 in 2007 to 24 in 2018 and the Marine rate increased from 11 in 2007 to 32 in 2018.




My takeaways and analysis for the increased mishap rates for the Navy and Marines:


Simulators – As supposed budget constraints (a fraudulent meme, by the way) have been imposed, simulator usage has increased in an attempt to reduce expenditures.  However, as simulator usage has increased, so too have mishaps.  Simulators are simply not a viable substitute for the sheer overwhelming physical sensations of actual flight.  A simulator is a nice way to review emergency procedures but it is not an effective method of learning to fly.  There is a reason why naval aviators qualify on the boat, not on simulators.


Monthly Flight Hours – Monthly flight hours have been severely cut back.  Minimum flight hour waivers are now commonplace.


Navy aviators said they are not getting 11 hours per month unless they are preparing to deploy. Although the Marine Corps’ goal for CH-53E pilots is 15 flight hours per month, one pilot said, “We too often are in the single digits for flight hours per pilot per month, a dangerously low number of flight hours to be decent at a very difficult trade.” Many Marine Corps aviators said they averaged about five hours per month. (1, p.61)


Waivers – There are only two solutions to insufficient flight hours: increase the hours or use waivers.  Which do you think the Navy chooses?


With fewer flight hours, pilots risk losing currency. The Commission found evidence that the Services have increased their reliance on waivers to operate despite currency and proficiency shortcomings. (1, p.61)


Do you recall the last time a discussion of waivers came up?  That’s right.  It was during the aftermath of the two Burke collisions with cargo ships when it was found that numerous required certifications were being routinely waived.  How did routine waiver use turn out then?


What happens when waivers are routinely used?  The report put it quite nicely:


The proliferation of waivers represents a new normal and acceptance of degraded standards. The Commission found senior leaders and safety officials unaware to what appears to be an erosion of safety. (1, p.62)


Waivers represent failure.  Failure to adhere to standards.  Failure to make the hard choices.  Failure to correct known, on-going problems.  Failure of leadership.  Failure.


Pressure – The pressure in the military to make do and always respond in the affirmative is enormous and has been cited in almost every plane and ship incident report.  ‘Gung ho’ makes a great advertising slogan on a recruiting poster but a lousy safety philosophy involving multi-billion dollar ships and multi-hundreds of million dollar aircraft.  Unceasing ‘can do’ inevitably turns on itself and results in mishaps and fatalities as we’re witnessing over and over again, today.


The immediate result of ‘can do’ attitudes is the acceptance of shortcuts.  In the report, the Marines were identified as the biggest culprit in maintenance and procedural shortcuts.  It’s hardly surprising then, that the Marines also demonstrated the biggest rise in mishap rate.





The Navy and Marine mishap rate increases are not a random occurrence.  They are not an Act of God that can’t be controlled.  They are not something that just happens, like catching a cold.  Instead, they are a conscious choice by Navy and Marine leadership to have more mishaps.  Wait, what now?  No way!  No Navy or Marine leader would make a conscious decision to have more mishaps, you say?  Well, you’re wrong.  No decision IS a decision.  The decision to do nothing about the ever-increasing use of waivers IS a decision to have and accept more mishaps.  The decision to do nothing about the use of simulators over actual flight hours IS a decision to have and accept more mishaps.  The decision to do nothing about the increased use of shortcuts and maintenance deficiencies IS a decision to have and accept more mishaps.  Make no mistake.  Navy and Marine leaders have chosen to have and accept more mishaps.







(1)National Commission on Military Aviation Safety, Report to the President and the Congress of the United States, 1-Dec-2020


  1. Only can imagine that the numbers will get worse if true that USN isn't requiring its next trainer to be beefed up for carrier landings and that will be done on SH or F35C. Maybe USN will just require all new jets and pilots to have a full automatic all the way to deck landing system and pilots won't be allowed NOT to use it. Landing by hand will be history and just let the computer land you....

  2. Simulator is not the major reason to blame reduced flight hours. Cost saving is. Simulators are used in training before actual flights and help. They also used to exploit new tactics before actually implement which reduce risks.

    Key problem is that Navy wants to reduce operation costs as there are ways too many places to spend money. Although the author disagree, I wrote several times on how expensive a US navy ship is. It is ~ 3 times in comparison with a similar Chinese naval ship. Not just ships, other things are also way too expensive.

    It is a fact that Pentagon is an ATM of politicians and well connected. People are fooled to believe a utter nonsense ---- it is military thus expensive.

    1. "Simulator is not the major reason to blame reduced flight hours."

      Of course not. Simulators were the supposed answer to the high cost of actual flight training.

      The simple fact is that increased dependence on simulators at the expense of actual flight hours results in increased mishap rates. That's not even debatable.

    2. Simulator is heavily used before a pilot's first flight. Even in civilian aviation, they are used extensively. You can Google the web to find Boeing and Airbus fly simulators used to train pilot.

      Real issue from my humble opinion is reducing flights to save money. It costs ~22,000 to fly F-18 for one hour. Besides fuel, parts need to be replaced base on hours flighted, like civilian aircrafts. A fighter's life is based on how many hours flighted (a car is on mileage travelled).

    3. Like Anon says, don't blame the sims.
      Flight time is not the time to figure out the 12 modes on your AN/APG-81, take 100 hours in the simulator for that. If your boss tell you to use a chisel instead of a screw driver, don't decry chisels.

      The Army accident rate remains flat, Coastie ships
      aren't running with rust. So why is the Navy out of step ? Does the Navy have a secret base full of robot ships using up all their funding ?

    4. "don't blame the sims."

      Absolutely blame sims WHEN THEY REPLACE FLIGHT HOURS. Simulators serve a useful purpose to supplement flight time, NOT REPLACE IT. As stated in the post,

      "A simulator is a nice way to review emergency procedures but it is not an effective method of learning to fly."

    5. There is even pushback on sim hours as they are far from zero cost.

      The culture is broken.

      If you want to field 11 carriers, then be prepared to pay for the real cost of fielding 11 carriers with realistic Air Wings.

      The problem is that everyone wants to have 11 carrier groups, because Combatant Commanders which as we all know is a deeply flawed model as the cost is not with the person authorizing use.

      But the American people are sick and tired of paying for a half-useful military when a huge percentage is skimmed off the budget.

      Seriously. I am a big fan of an effective military, but this nonsense can't continue indefinitely.

      The revolving door between the Military, the Defense Industry and their lobbying with Congress needs to stop.

      I've been pushing this on the blog, which I love, for a very long time, but seriously guys, how long are we going to be prepared to put up with this?

      Nearly a trillion dollars in the expense budget, but we have 7th Fleet disasters, the Zums, the LCS, the LPD-17s and the fact we can't keep an aircraft in the air to the requisite standard of safety.

      Something is rotten in the State of Denmark.

  3. "Many Marine Corps aviators said they averaged about five hours per month."

    This has to be a typo, or at least I hope so.

    1. You may have noticed the accompanying sentence:

      “We too often are in the single digits for flight hours per pilot per month"

      Single digits so … yeah, 5 hrs per month

  4. So cost considerations are driving fewer flight hours, and the attempt is made to cover the shortage with simulator time, which is proving to be a poor substitute, based on mishap rates. And if those mishap rates are for peacetime training flying, and can expected to be far worse with an enemy shooting real bullets and missiles at them.

    Seems to me there are two answers: find more money for flight hours, or live with a less competent flying force. I think I know where the money can be found, the overly expensive and bloated administrative establishment. We could increase spending for combat and combat support functions by 25% each, and reduce spending for administrative overhead by 25%, and reduce total defense spending by $100 billion, while providing a more capable force in the field/at sea. The money's there, we just have to prioritize combat capability instead of Pentagon paper shuffling.

    1. To provide support for the above, I refer to a "tooth to tail" study by consulting firm McKinsey at, out of a $700B defense budget, the USA spends 14% ($100B) on combat, 9% ($60B) on combat support, and 77% ($540B) on admin/overhead. Add $25B to combat, $15B to combat support, and cut $135B from admin/overhead, and you reduce total defense spending by $95B.

    2. As a start, at least double flight hours (and incur the increased maintenance and attrition to aircraft that go with that), increase simulator time (it has a greater than zero value, so use it all we can, and this goes for the surface and subsurface forces as well), and take the cost out of admin and overhead.

      As a start, the Navy has roughly 285 admirals for 290 ships. Cut that number (admirals, not ships) at least in half. 140 admirals with an average staff of 20 is 2,800 people. At an average cost of probably $200K apiece, that is $560MM dollars per year. Not a huge hunk compared to the $700B defense budget, but at least it should buy some more flight time. And when you are making the cuts, keep the warriors (to the extent that you can find them in that number) and get rid of the paper shufflers, and restructure to accommodate the changes. As for the guys who get axed, they can retire or (primarily in the case of staffs) go back to sea and learn how to become warriors.

  5. What I find amazing is how the military works to a lower standard than industry. In the UK we have the "Health and Safety Executive" who can look into any accidents and prosecute. I assume USA has an equivalent. If I have an accident on any of my building sites and the personnel have not followed procedures or have not got the correct equipment or had the correct training / certification / experience; I, my boss and anyone up to and including the managing Director/ CEO can and do end up in court with a possible prison sentence. We have to have monitoring procedures in place to make sure all the above is adhered to. Lack of money is NOT an acceptable excuse in law. I can understand in war time things are different but in peace time it is immoral for the State to ask their staff to work to a lower standard than industry especially when they may well be doing more dangerous activities. End of rant.

    1. I think you just made most American's head explode. Mine anyway. Safety and accountability might cost you your job. Likely a civil lawsuit in some circumstances. Jail time, very unlikely.

    2. That's what you get when you have a succession of Labour governments, as UK has had in the recent past.

    3. "who can look into any accidents and prosecute."

      The US Navy does not lack for investigative mechanisms. Every incident generates reams of reports by various agencies, boards, and chains of command. We generate them, identify blame, and then forget about them. Similarly, we don't lack for prosecutorial options: NCIS, courts martial, masts, law suits can be brought, etc. We just don't use them to punish the guilty. Instead, we generally promote the guilty.

      We have the mechanisms. We just don't use them.

    4. There was an investigation for both Fitz and McCain accidents, I think there might have been even some suggestions on changes but how many were put into effect or will last?

    5. Here are some quotes from the Navy's investigation:

      "The command leadership did not foster a culture of critical self-assessment. Following a near-collision in mid-May, leadership made no effort to determine the root causes and take corrective actions in order to improve the ship’s performance.

      The command leadership was not aware that the ship’s daily standards of performance had degraded to an unacceptable level.

      The command leadership allowed the schedule of events preceding the collision to fatigue the crew.

      The command leadership failed to assess the risks of fatigue and implement mitigation measures to ensure adequate crew rest."

      Suffice to say, not a lot has been implemented. There is one positive though. The Navy decided to revert to mechanical control for all Burkes because the UI was too complex. Here is the actual quote:

      "The investigation by the NTSB also found that the touchscreen system was complex, and that sailors on the McCain had been not been adequately trained to use the new systems."

      Here is a link to the article regarding the UI issue if you want to read some more:

  6. 11 flight hours a month is a joke - pilots should be loging 30+.



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