Military, Air Nationwide Guard Want a Technique for Higher Helicopter Security, GAO Says

The Military and Air Nationwide Guard have to sharpen their methods for selling security and mitigating danger in helicopter items, the Authorities Accountability Workplace wrote in a report launched April 12.

From fiscal yr 2012 to 2021, there have been 298 accidents involving Nationwide Guard helicopters throughout noncombat flights. The GAO decided many of those accidents have been brought on by human error, with broader institutional points that additionally must be addressed.

Although a few of the GAO’s report and proposals apply extra to the Military Nationwide Guard than the Air Nationwide Guard, the frequent ones embrace not routinely evaluating processes for preflight danger evaluation; overworking unit security officers; and pilots not getting sufficient flight hours resulting from lack of upkeep, funding, staffing, or different organizational shortfalls.

The report comes within the wake of two lethal Military helicopter accidents that occurred earlier this yr. The primary occurred in February when a Tennessee Military Nationwide Guard Black Hawk helicopter crashed throughout a coaching sortie in Alabama. The second occurred in March when two Black Hawks from the a hundred and first Airborne Division crashed in Kentucky. Two Troopers have been killed within the first crash, whereas 9 have been killed within the second.

Although each the Military and Air Nationwide Guard have a spread of security and danger discount measures, the parts can do extra to ensure these measures are being carried out successfully, the GAO report states.

The Knowledge

Of the 298 helicopter accidents reported by Military and Air Nationwide Guard from 2012 by means of 2021, 45 have been critical Class A or Class B accidents that concerned loss of life, everlasting incapacity, extended hospitalization, or greater than $500,000 in damages—40 involving Military Nationwide Guard helicopters, 5 involving Air Nationwide Guard helicopters.. The worst of these accidents killed 28 Guardsmen.

The discrepancy between the Military and Air Pressure Guards is probably going due partially to the distinction in flying hours between the 2 parts—the Military Nationwide Guard flies helicopters for a mean of 200,000 hours per yr, whereas the ANG averages 3,500 flying hours. The Military Nationwide Guard additionally flies extra forms of helicopters, whereas the GAO report studied solely the HH-60 Pave Hawk on the Air Nationwide Guard facet.

Military Nationwide Guard helicopter accident charges have been beneath these of the Military Lively-Responsibility element, whereas the Air Nationwide Guard accident numbers have been too small to make a significant comparability with its Lively-Responsibility counterpart.

When the Military or the Air Pressure examine an accident, the companies look to see if it might have been brought on by human error, materials failure, environmental components, or any mixture of the three. Human error was listed as a contributing consider many of the accidents, the GAO discovered. On the Military facet, investigators detected that not following coaching procedures, a scarcity of situational consciousness, and overconfidence contributed to many accidents, whereas on the Air Pressure facet, “unsuitable alternative of motion throughout an operation” and “insufficient real-time danger evaluation” have been probably the most generally cited components.

The info knowledgeable GAO’s suggestions for methods to extra successfully implement security and danger discount measures.

What’s Going Fallacious 

The GAO discovered that whereas the Air Nationwide Guard has a stringent course of for documenting the implementation of security suggestions made after helicopter accident investigations, the Military Nationwide Guard has no such system. Creating such a system was the GAO’s first Military-specific advice. One other Military-specific advice was to repeatedly consider Nationwide Guard helicopter aircrew efficiency throughout coaching, additionally one thing the Air Nationwide Guard does.

An HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter from the 210th Rescue Squadron, Alaska Air Nationwide Guard, practices “contact and go” maneuvers at Bryant Military Airfield on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Dec. 17, 2014. (U.S. Military Nationwide Guard picture by Sgt. Edward Eagerton)

Different GAO suggestions utilized to each the Military and Air Nationwide Guard, corresponding to a course that the parts each want to ensure their helicopter items constantly consider and replace their danger administration worksheets. Aircrews use danger administration worksheets to gauge danger ranges and mitigation methods earlier than a flight and, if mandatory, obtain approval for the flight from greater up the chain of command.

The flaw within the system is neither Military nor Air Nationwide Guard helicopter items repeatedly replace their worksheets to mirror classes discovered in security and danger discount.

Service officers have been hesitant to develop standardized worksheets for all items because of the variety of plane and mission units throughout the drive, however Air Pressure officers stated ensuring these worksheets are constantly up to date could possibly be a part of the service’s unit inspection program.

The GAO additionally discovered that unit security officers in each the Military and Air Nationwide Guard have been “hindered resulting from workload and staffing imbalances.” Between conducting security briefings, analyzing hazards, coordinating with different security organizations, recording accidents, and their common flying duties, unit security officers have loads on their plates, and lots of who spoke with the GAO stated they might higher assist security if it was their major responsibility or they have been assigned to the position full-time. 

“They won’t allow you to simply be the security man; you’ll all the time have extra duties,” one security officer informed the report authors.

The GAO discovered neither the Military nor Air Nationwide Guard have a constant strategy to staffing security officers, although the Air Pressure Security Directorate has beneficial wing commanders assign full-time personnel to the wing Chief of Security place.

The report additionally discovered that each Military and Air Nationwide Guard helicopter items undergo from low flying hours. On common, Military helicopter pilots didn’t meet the proficiency aim of 9 flight hours per thirty days for almost all of helicopter sorts, whereas Air Pressure helicopter pilots usually fall wanting their aim of 12.5 hours per thirty days.

Many components contribute to the low hours. In some circumstances, Military and Air Nationwide Guard items used up most of their annual flying hours at first of the yr, usually helping with state and regional emergency assist, which meant they might not fly as a lot by means of the remainder of the yr. In different circumstances, discovering time to fly was troublesome to juggle for pilots with full-time jobs.

To make issues worse, Guard items usually don’t have sufficient funding to usher in pilots for extra hours, and so they additionally battle with upkeep and components availability, all of which makes scheduling part-time pilots harder. There are additionally not many teacher pilots to go round, and the identical downside applies to non-pilot aircrew, who are sometimes important for secure or life like coaching.

Flying hours additionally depend on upkeep hours, which is one other ache level for a lot of Guard items. The GAO discovered that no Military Nationwide Guard helicopter sort met its annual mission succesful objectives from fiscal yr 2017 to 2021, whereas the Air Nationwide Guard Pave Hawk missed its objectives in fiscal yr 2017 and 2019. Air Nationwide Guardsmen informed the GAO that two-shift upkeep operations are required for helicopter items, however they don’t have sufficient folks to workers each shifts.

Lastly, Guard helicopter pilots usually have hassle accessing simulators to fulfill flying hour objectives and supply coaching even by means of dangerous climate and upkeep hiccups. The Air Pressure’s solely Pave Hawk simulator obtainable to Air Nationwide Guard pilots is at Kirtland Air Pressure Base, N.M.

Fixing It

Although the Military and Air Nationwide Guard have taken steps to deal with these challenges, their actions stay incomplete, GAO wrote, and neither element has established clear priorities to deal with the challenges stopping Guard helicopter pilots from reaching their flying hour objectives. Nor do both of the parts have complete information for monitoring progress.

“The challenges are complicated and require a coordinated strategy to make sure that any useful resource changes are supportable and are aligned with priorities,” the GAO wrote. “By growing a complete technique that defines objectives, priorities, and efficiency measures, the Military and Air Pressure can be higher positioned to deal with the complicated and inter-related challenges which have hindered Nationwide Guard helicopter pilots from reaching their coaching goals.”

The GAO beneficial the Military and Air Nationwide Guard:

  • Implement measures to ensure helicopter items constantly consider and replace operational danger administration worksheets.
  • Assess the useful resource and workload allocations of security personnel to make sure helicopter items have sufficient workers and sources to implement operational flight security packages. 
  • Develop a complete technique together with objectives and efficiency measures for challenges that hinder helicopter pilot coaching.