Crashes suggest widespread malaise

The incident in which two Greek air force twin-seater F-16 fighter jets crashed last week, and all four pilots were killed, was yet one more addition to the growing toll of deadly accidents that have recently plagued the armed forces. Ill feeling is growing among army ranks. Greece’s air force, whose manpower and equipment are under heavy strain as a result of the tense climate over the Aegean Sea, is no stranger to losses. Over the past 10 years, a total of 37 airmen and 40 aircraft have been lost. However, accidents have become more frequent in the recent period (the most tragic being the crash on September 11 this year of a Chinook army helicopter near Mount Athos in which 17 people met their deaths) while there has also been an increase in the number of accidents in the army. What is more alarming, these accidents did not take place during exercises using real fire but in conditions of everyday training. Behind every tragic incident there are a number of reasons that explain how experienced officers end up breaching acceptable risk limits and safety regulations, placing human lives in jeopardy. With respect to the F-16 warplanes accident last week, it has been reported that only 65 percent of air force warplanes are currently operable – a figure that is well below the required 80 percent. In addition, it has been reported that the flight simulator, a sine qua non of pilot training, has been in operation for only about four months. All these may be plausible explanations. However, the increase in the number of accidents and the growing signs of laxity in the army demonstrate that the main reasons rest with the broader situation in the armed forces. Endless sudden changes in leadership, grievances about promotions and retirements, and the tendency of certain officers to neglect their duties all seem to have had a corrosive effect on the smooth functioning of the military. As a result, the military lacks the mandatory emphasis on training and safety regulations, while military men are lacking in self-discipline and tend to flout the limits of acceptable risk. Our political and military leaders have to understand that they must take drastic action as swiftly as possible. Public concern with the heavy toll is great, and wholly justified.