By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Marine Corps and Army leaders on Wednesday vowed to reverse a growing number of serious aviation accidents after the head of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee raised concerns about the increase.
Representative Mac Thornberry, the committee chairman, questioned the top Marine Corps and Army officers about a rise in "Class A" aviation mishaps - and whether they indicate the services were not ready to execute the U.S. military strategy.
Class A aviation accidents, the most serious type, are those that result in a fatality or permanent total disability, or property damage of $2 million or more.
U.S. military officials have voiced increasing concerns in recent months about the impact of budget cuts on the ability to respond to global threats.
U.S. Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller told lawmakers the Marines were taking steps to reverse the sharp increase in accidents by beefing up training hours and getting airplanes repaired and serviced faster.
"We need to get more airplanes on the ramp, and we need to fly more," Neller told reporters after the House committee hearing. "I track this every week ... We're going to fix this."
The Marine Corps had reported 3.96 mishaps per 100,000 flying hours in fiscal 2016, up from an average of 2.15 over the last decade, Thornberry said.
Neller said the increased rate of accidents was likely due to a variety of factors, including shortfalls in spare parts, longer service times in the maintenance depots and lack of aircraft for training, all of which were exacerbated by high rates of flights for combat operations and budget cuts.
The Army's mishap rate per 100,000 hours had increased from 1.52 mishaps per 100,000 flying hours in fiscal 2014 to 1.99 in fiscal 2016, Thornberry said.
Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said he had ordered a detailed study on the mishaps and reasons behind the increase. He said the Army was also taking steps to expand the current number of monthly flying hours for pilots.
Milley said the Army was at high risk of being unable to respond to serious threats involving a country like Russia, given cuts to training and equipment budgets.
Thornberry and the committee will keep an eye on the accident rate, said one committee aide. "The combination of warfighters who aren’t adequately trained and equipment that doesn't work is a perfect storm," said the aide.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)