The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) approved a proposal May 9 to create an independent commission to study a recent surge in fatal military aviation accidents.

The proposal by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the HASC’s ranking member, came in the form of an amendment to the fiscal year 2019 defense authorization bill. The committee approved the amendment by voice vote. CAPITOL

Smith said that while inadequate and unpredictable funding for readiness accounts over the past few years have contributed to the aviation mishaps, he wants the commission to look at whether there are additional causes.

“This is becoming a very large problem,” Smith said. “It is costing the lives of the men and women who are serving us, and I don’t think it’s just the money. The money is certainly part of it. I want to figure out the entire picture, get every answer we can, to make sure we are creating the safest possible environment for the men and women in our armed services.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the HASC’s chairman, endorsed the amendment and expressed concern that some Pentagon officials have insisted that military aviation does not face a crisis. He noted that 35 service members have died in aircraft accidents in the current fiscal year, and that more died in accidents in 2017 than in combat.

“No one should deny that this is a problem,” he said. “No one should delay fixing the problem.”

The committee added language by Thornberry to have the commission also review the physiological episodes that have increasingly plagued military pilots, including those flying Air Force and Navy trainers and Navy F/A-18s.

“It a deep problem that needs to be included here,” he said.

The committee’s action came a day after the Air Force announced plans to conduct a “safety review” of its aviation operations later this month to address a recent series of mishaps, including a WC-130H Hercules crash last week that killed nine airmen (Defense Daily, May 8). During the review, commander-led forums will ask airmen to identify problems that may cause future mishaps.

The HASC approved dozens of other, non-controversial amendments during its consideration of the defense authorization bill. One would allow the Department of Defense to buy more than 77 Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built F-35 Lightning IIs if it can free up money through cost savings.

With hundreds of more potential amendments to sift through, the committee was expected to meet late into the night to finish its work on the legislation.

At the start of the markup, Thornberry welcomed the committee’s newest member, Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.). Mitchell replaces former Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), who recently left Congress to become NASA’s administrator.

“See how you like it,” Thornberry told Mitchell.

Mitchell’s congressional district includes Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which is home to A-10 close-air-support aircraft and KC-135 tankers.