Jiji PressTOKYO (Jiji Press) — Since the latest deadly crash of a Japanese Self-Defense Forces helicopter, speculation has spread that the wider range of duties and shortages of mechanics may be behind the frequent SDF aircraft accidents of recent years.
Monday’s crash of the Ground SDF’s AH-64D attack helicopter in Kanzaki, Saga Prefecture, which killed two crew members, came after three fatal accidents involving SDF aircraft last year.
The training of SDF personnel has become more diverse due to an increase in new duties, such as participation in U.N. peacekeeping missions abroad and the defense of Japan’s remote islands, said International University of Japan Vice President Noboru Yamaguchi, who was once a helicopter pilot at the GSDF and served as deputy head of a GSDF aviation school.
“While personnel are more skillful than ever, they seem to be busy with increased workloads,” Yamaguchi said.
Discussing the background to the frequent accidents, a senior GSDF official noted that aircraft have become more sophisticated and thus are more complicated to fly and maintain.
The official also said a decrease in the number of veteran pilots at the GSDF means that young pilots have fewer opportunities to practice flying alongside more experienced colleagues.
Aviation analyst Yoshitomo Aoki said there may be a lack of mechanics who can do maintenance work on the AH-64D helicopter, the type of the chopper that crashed on Monday.
The number of AH-64D helicopters deployed was reduced to only 13 from the initial plan of about 60 after the country allocated bigger budgets to missile defense due to heightened tensions over North Korea, Aoki said.
The helicopter is used frequently but there are a limited number of mechanics able to carry out maintenance work on it, which may add to the burdens of SDF personnel during operations, he said.
In May last year, a GSDF reconnaissance plane crashed in a mountain area in Hokkaido, leaving all four crew members dead.
In August, a Maritime SDF patrol helicopter crashed into the sea off Aomori Prefecture, killing three crew members. In October, an Air SDF search-and-rescue helicopter crashed off Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, claiming the lives of four personnel aboard.Speech