OPINION

Lost bearings

The Greek air force was plunged into mourning after two F-16 fighter jets went missing yesterday only a month after a Chinook army helicopter accident in which 17 people were killed. The two warplanes had taken off on a training mission from the military airport at Larissa in central Greece. Four young men, four valuable air force members, went to their deaths. On another level, and always subordinate to the loss of human lives, we cannot overlook the loss of two fighter jets, not only because of their cost but mainly because of the difficulty of their immediate replacement. It is an open secret that the Aegean Sea is the theater for an undeclared war where training flights often turn into close dogfights with enemy aircraft. However, it must be acknowledged that accidents in the armed forces are becoming more frequent and that the toll in human lives is rising. Also the number of accidents without casualties is increasing, such as the recent crash of the Mirage 2000 warplane in the Aegean Sea, whose pilot was fortunate enough to eject to safety. The causes of the latest tragedy were still unknown late yesterday. We do not possess the expertise to assess the reasons behind every accident suffered by the armed forces. However, the rate at which these have been taking place in the recent period – from the electrocution of five conscripts in Evros last April and the death of the two army officers who were run over by a tank in Ioannina, to the Chinook tragedy – has caused deep concern to the public and given voice to critics who claim there is obviously something wrong with the Greek armed forces. As this page said after the helicopter accident, some people in the armed forces seem to have lost their bearings and are as a result shunning the weighty obligations that the nation has entrusted them with. To this fatigue (or even corruption in some cases), one must add a widespread state of laxity that feeds frivolity and undermines strictness over safety regulations. One of the main reasons behind this is the discontinuity in the leadership of the armed forces and the failure to implement the necessary changes in a smooth fashion. Greece’s political leaders, the Ministry of Defense and the military should be deeply worried about the growing symptoms. They must take all the necessary measures to restore order and responsibility in the armed forces, putting the requisite emphasis on staff training, maintenance of military equipment and adherence to safety regulations. The rising death toll leaves no room for further relaxation.