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Armed Services Chairman: More Accidental Military Deaths Than Vegas Massacre

WASHINGTON – No enemy has done more damage to the U.S. military than Congress’ reliance on sequestration and continuing resolutions, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said Thursday.

The Texas lawmaker blamed a lack of funding for inadequate maintenance and training schedules and an unprecedented amount of preventable military deaths outside of combat.

“If you go back and look at all the accidents, not all of which have gotten the attention, but if you add it up, we have lost roughly the same number of people in training accidents this year who have got shot in Las Vegas this week,” Thornberry said at the Heritage Foundation. “Certainly, we’ve lost far more people in accidents than we’ve lost in combat, and unfortunately that’s the trend of the last three years.” The death toll from Sunday’s Las Vegas mass shooting is 59 including gunman Stephen Paddock.

Thornberry cited a number of high-profile accidents, including two naval destroyer accidents in the Pacific Ocean.

The USS Fitzgerald’s collision with a Philippine container ship near Tokyo in June resulted in seven deaths, while the USS John S. McCain collided with a Liberian ship off the coast of Singapore and Malaysia in August, killing 10. Just this past week, a training jet crashed near Knoxville, Tenn., killing an instructor and a student. In July, a military refueling plane crashed in Mississippi, killing 16.

Thornberry said that the accidents are evidence of a readiness problem that “will not be solved quickly or easily.”

On Sunday, the federal government will begin its ninth consecutive fiscal year under a continuing resolution. Thornberry cited a Sept. 8 letter from Defense Secretary James Mattis to himself and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), describing cumulative effects on military training and maintenance from operating under continuing resolutions.

“Every single day that we operate under a continuing resolution does damage to the men and women of the military by denying them the resources they need to do the job that we asked them to do,” Thornberry said. “Every single day of a CR does damage.”

At the same time, Thornberry praised recent cost-cutting measures exhibited by the Navy. Last month, The Virginian-Pilot reported that the Navy will operate periscopes on its most advanced submarines using X Box 360 controllers. The controllers, priced between $20 and $30 a piece, will replace specially designed military controllers that cost $38,000 each.

“Partly for cost but mainly because the guys who are coming into to run those periscopes already know how to work those controllers, and they work fine,” Thornberry said. “That’s the sort of agility and innovation I think is required across the board.”

Thornberry said that in his home state of Texas conversations about taxes and healthcare often turn into debates about how to best defend against the threat of North Korea. The chairman lamented the fact that the U.S. is spending about the same amount on missile defense today as it was in 2002: about $8.3 billion.

“Look at what’s happened in the world in the last 16 years when it comes to missiles, and the threat that the American people are under because we have squandered the time and we have not stepped up to provide the strength in defending our country against missiles that we should,” he said.

He called China’s approach to North Korea a critical test for the U.S.-China relationship. China claims that North Korea is not their puppet and that it can’t control economic activity he said, but the truth is that 90 percent of North Korea’s economic activity goes through China.

“This is a crucial test for China’s meeting the obligations of a great power on how they handle the situation with North Korea in the short term,” he said.