August 30, 2011

Albatros’ down

Such things happen, time and again, in the air forces of various countries. The “birdies” crash once in a while, no matter how reliable and well-maintained is the equipment, how good is the training or how experienced are the pilots. (Just ask the Finns about their pretty regular experience with losing their “Hornets”). A French “Mirage” and a Lithuanian “Albatros” apparently got a little too intimate during the routine training session near Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania and “kissed” each other mid-air. Tough love, “Albatros” down. Good luck though — no casualties at all.

Such things happen, time and again, in the air forces of various countries. The “birdies” crash once in a while, no matter how reliable and well-maintained is the equipment, how good is the training or how experienced are the pilots. (Just ask the Finns about their pretty regular experience with losing their “Hornets”). A French “Mirage” and a Lithuanian “Albatros” apparently got a little too intimate during the routine training session near Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania and “kissed” each other mid-air. Tough love, “Albatros” down. Good luck though — no casualties at all.

Safety-related accidents in the armed forces tend, however, evoke very dramatic reactions of the media and the public. After all, the military is an organisation entrusted with responsible management of the means of lethal force. If things go very wrong, people die – service personnel or/and just civilian bystanders. Certainly, those living in the airbase vicinity can be forgiven for worrying about their safety and wellbeing. The important thing is that those involved in accidents draw the right lessons and make necessary improvements without, however, trying to put such constraints on procedures which would make any realistic and demanding military training impossible.
There will inevitably be some “drama queens” screaming how irresponsible it is to have military activities next door to the fourth largest city of the country. I wonder how many of them paid any attention to the fact three cars collided in the south-east of Lithuania on the very same morning, killing two people. Irresponsible driving is a far, far greater problem in Lithuania (as well as in Latvia and Estonia) than safety accidents in the military. But the latter make bigger headlines and present better opportunities to vent anger or unleash some inexplicable anxieties often fuelled by propaganda from certain quarters.
Some broader perspective can be prescribed to such drama makers. The base is there to stay (just as civilian airports are not about to close), the air force training activities will not cease and NATO air policing will continue in the air space of the Baltic states at least for some time to come, because they are all a necessary part of everyday functioning of the state and its armed forces (pretty much in the same way that members of the public find it necessary to drive on the roads regardless of a risk to die in traffic accidents or of the risks and inconvenience – noise, pollution — they cause to others).
There will also be those making fun of that poor “Albatros”, with plenty of sneering at supposedly useless old crap in the inventory of the Lithuanian air force. This will usually come from those who have no clue what the military does as part of their overall mission and what range of roles and tasks it has to train for in order to succeed in that mission.
From training forward air controllers and improving integration skills of air and land forces in battlespace to training and maintaining readiness of NATO air policing operation’s personnel (NATO interceptor pilots, ground controllers etc.), the “Albatros” aircraft are useful assets in many respects.
Very few, if any, of NATO’s so-called Baltic Regional Training Events (BRTEs – nine up until now) passed without participation of these jets, two of which went through a major overhaul in 2007. The one which crashed will surely be missed, even if its contribution was not appreciated by the general public.
The accident underlines how important it is to be effective in emergency communication to the public, possess necessary search and rescue assets able to respond quickly and investigate its causes thoroughly.
One should hope, however, that the Lithuanian defence organisation became more mature in its crisis management abilities compared to 2005, when the Russian air force fighter jet crashed near Kaunas: for several weeks in a row, its entire top management and command was doing nothing else but managing the ensuing diplomatic, organisational and public relations crisis, while leaving all other issues basically unattended – an excellent case study to anyone interested in the consequences of the culture of micromanagement (as well as a lesson on how easy it is to stage an effective diversion if one prepares to launch a surprise attack).
The accident also should not obscure deeper and more long-term challenges such as air surveillance capabilities of our countries, the future of NATO air policing mission in the Baltics or the presence and involvement of the Alliance in the region.
We should get much more worried about any of the above starting acquiring mirage-like qualities than about one slightly mangled “Mirage” and one lost “Albatros”.

Filed under: BlogTagged with:

No comment yet, add your voice below!


Add a Comment