The United States Navy has canceled Exercise Alligator Dagger in Djibouti after two crashes involving United States Marine Corps aircraft. In recent days, a Boeing AV-8B Harrier II jump jet and a Sikorsky CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter—both from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU)—suffered from non-fatal mishaps.
“U.S. air operations in Djibouti are on hold and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command has canceled the remainder of exercise Alligator Dagger in response to two separate aviation incidents in Djibouti on April 3, 2018,” U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said in a statement. “Alligator Dagger is a routine, scheduled training event involving U.S. personnel and operations in the vicinity of Djibouti and Arta Beach Range. Both incidents are currently under a joint investigation, and we will provide more information when able. A safety stand-down has been initiated for all exercise participants.”
The Pentagon says that canceling the exercise is a routine and prudent safety precaution. “We and the Djiboutians reached an agreement to cease flight operations. Separately, the commander decided to cancel the rest of the exercise,” Joint Staff director Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. told reporters at the Pentagon on April 5.
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McKenzie did not have specific details available, but insisted that such cancellations are routine. “It's not unusual—and I've actually been a MEU commander in Djibouti and flown these airplanes there,” McKenzie said. “You want to step back, take a look and make sure, for reasons that have been amply brought out in the back-and-forth here, that you're not doing something wrong as your aircraft fly.”
McKenzie said that safety stand downs are the prerogative of the commander on the ground since he or she is responsible for the safety of their troops. “That's just a reasonable precaution by the commander on the ground, to make sure that we're not doing something that we can fix,” McKenzie said.
Mishaps are fact of life in the unforgiving business of aviation—what can go wrong too often does go wrong. “I'd say mishaps happen in military aviation any time you're flying complicated machines in situations where you've got less than total visibility and doing things that are difficult to do,” McKenzie said. “Mishaps are inevitably going to occur. We don't want any mishaps to occur. One mishap is too many. But I'm not prepared to say right now that this is some kind of crisis.”
U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said that only forces directly involved in Alligator Dagger are impacted. “Routine operations for other units assigned to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command are unaffected by this cancellation, and U.S. Naval personnel continue to conduct maritime security operations throughout the region,” the Navy said.
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.
Image: Wikimedia Commons