"Let’s face it, our country is in a financial jam and we need to do our part to tighten our belts. However, the message I’m getting is that Army aviation is a critical enabler on that battlefield," Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby said in an interview with Defense News. (Army)
As Program Executive Officer (PEO) for U.S. Army Aviation, Maj. Gen. William “Tim” Crosby manages the largest procurement budget in the Army. In its 2013 request, the Army asked for $6.3 billion for its aircraft programs, which include the CH-47 Chinook, the AH-64 Apache and the UH-60 Black Hawk.
Crosby, who is a Chinook pilot by training, commanded the VII Corps’ CH-47 unit in Operations Desert Shield and Storm in the early 1990s.
During the past 10 years, operations in Iraq and, especially, Afghanistan have increased the demand for Army helicopters to the point where the Defense Department directed the Army to create two combat aviation brigades in its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review.
In the job as PEO since 2008, Crosby is now trying to meet this demand while making affordable plans to modernize the fleet for the future. The near-term question that needs answering is what to do with the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter, which has been upgraded several times over the years and has been in the Army fleet since 1969.
With a new development program looking unlikely given budget constraints, Crosby is weighing the costs and benefits of doing a service-life extension program (SLEP) or buying an off-the-shelf aircraft that could deliver some additional capability. To help make the decision, the Army has proposed a demonstration for this summer, but is awaiting approval in the form of an acquisition decision memorandum from the Pentagon’s acquisition chief.
Q. There have been a number of procurement delays or slowdowns in the Army aviation budget: Apache has gone down to the minimum requirement of 48 per year; UH-60 modernization is delayed; some CH-47 improvements have been delayed. What factors did you weigh making these budget decisions?
A. There are so many things that I’m charged with managing. It’s not just the readiness and sustainment of the fleet, and the upgrades and modernization; it’s also the industrial base of this country. Those are all considerations.
Also, as a steward of the taxpayer’s dollar, we want to make sure that we’re getting the best we can for our investment. Currently, the Chinook and Black Hawk are both in multiyear [contracts], and the Apache we’re going to try to go to a multiyear, so what we looked at was, how do we get to that? I mean, we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars that are being saved by doing multiyears, and you stabilize your industrial base by giving them a five-year commitment. We were able to maintain those multiyears by reducing quantities a little bit. We’re not reducing the overall buy; we’re just extending that production.
Q. Do you feel that despite some of the reductions you had to make, Army aviation remains well supported?
A. I think without question. Many of my brother PEOs, in the other services as well as in the Army, we’re all taking hits. Let’s face it, our country is in a financial jam and we need to do our part to tighten our belts. However, the message I’m getting is that Army aviation is a critical enabler on that battlefield.
Q. Where do you see the biggest vulnerabilities in the industrial base?
A. We have done very well for the last 10 years because we have increased demand. Now, as we’ve come out of Iraq and as we start meeting the president’s mandate to come out of Afghanistan by 2014, we need to be cognizant of the impacts of reducing that operational tempo and what that does to our industrial base. As you reduce those quantities, we’ve got to work very closely with industry — and that’s going to be my message at [this year’s Army Aviation Association of America conference in Nashville, Tenn.] is how do we work with our industry partners? How do we flow this down to their second- and third-tier vendors without losing them? Because many of them are just barely keeping the lights on, even with the demand, because of the way the economy is.
Q. Are you concerned that it won’t be a gradual decline but a precipitous fall?
A. If we don’t do this right, we could cause a train wreck. That’s why I’m trying to get in front of this thing and be proactive. We need to share with them and be open so that they can find innovative ways to stay onboard. If I just all of a sudden turn the lights out, then we’ve got a huge issue.
Also, as numbers come down, the tendency is to focus on your short-term investments. My push to industry is we need to maintain a balance of long-term, short-term and midterm investments or we’re not going to have that capacity when we need it down the road.
Q. The analysis of alternatives (AoA) for the Armed Aerial Scout has been going on for a long time. Is there disagreement within the Army about the right path?
A. I won’t say there’s disagreement. I think there’s violent agreement across the Army and OSD that we have a shortfall in our scout area. That resulted from us terminating Comanche, terminating [the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter] for the right reasons, and now we still have a valid need for a manned reconnaissance platform.
The AoA basically says manned reconnaissance is valid and there’s nothing out there today that can meet that requirement; it will take a full-scale development program. My supposition is that’s unaffordable in today’s environment.
That leaves us with two options. One is to do a service-life extension, which is what we put in the budget. The other is we talk constantly about 80 percent solutions. So, what we’ve challenged industry — and they’ve risen to the cause — is what is out there, off the shelf, that might be able to get to that 80 percent solution?
Our demo that we’re proposing to OSD is to just feel that out and find out if there really is something out there worth the investment, or do we just go do the SLEP? So the bottom line of the entire Armed Aerial Scout path ahead is taking an appetite suppressant and not doing a full-scale development. That way, we can focus on the long-term Future Vertical Lift program.
I guess what I’m boiling it down to is we’re trying to make an informed decision. All or nothing in the past got you nothing. We’re trying to say all or nothing may not be the right answer. Let’s look at that 80 percent solution. I don’t think folks are against that. I think they’re just trying to understand how we’re doing it.
Q. With the demo this summer, what do you hope to learn?
A. There will be an exportable instrumentation package. I’m an old tester. We know how to do this. We will accumulate the data based on some iterations that each vendor will fly, and then we’ll make that decision. Specifically, what we’re learning is, using the SLEP as a baseline and using the full up-armed Aerial Scout, where does the demo program fall in between that?
What that’s going to tell us: Is there really an 80 percent solution out there, and is it affordable? Some people say, ‘Well, you just did an AoA, don’t you know that?’ That AoA was started two years ago, and our vendors, to their credit, have stepped up and invested their dollars to demonstrate that they can get close to that solution. We’re trying to figure out just how close they have come.
Q. You mentioned Future Vertical Lift. Is that a new name for Joint Multi-Role?
A. You bet your boots. We’re changing the name. That’s what you’ve got to do in the Army. If someone doesn’t like a program, you change the name, right?
No, I’m kidding. We were confusing a lot of people with all of the different studies and all of the different things going on. As you know, the Future Vertical Lift concept — we don’t know if it’s going to be rotary-wing or tilt-wing, but it’s going to be a scalable architecture of aircraft: a scout variant, a utility-attack variant, a cargo variant and then what they call “ultra.”
We can’t afford to go after developing all of these programs, so we took a look at our fleet and said, 75 percent of the fleet is in the utility-attack variant. So, we’re going to focus on that Future Vertical Lift-Medium variant as the first one that we’re going to do. The others will be scalable up or down from that variant.
Q. What’s the timeline for Future Vertical Lift?
A. We want to have a Future Vertical Lift up and running in the field in 2030.
Q. Is reset a big concern for you? When you look at your portfolio, how much does reset compete for modernization dollars?
A. Remember, reset is only in existence to support the war. I’m a very big proponent of reset, but remember, that’s only end-of-war, plus two years. It is funded through [overseas contingency operations], so it’s not in competition for modernization dollars.
Q. Do you foresee a greater consolidation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) across the services as budgets get tighter?
A. The UAS in the Army today are focused on reconnaissance, surveillance and targeting acquisition. We have reaffirmed again in this war that Army aviation exists to support that ground commander. I’m very proud of what this team has done to accomplish that. The Marines are looking at a cargo variant of the UAS. We’re watching that very closely.
I see way down the road, and this is just Crosby’s opinion, looking at the potential for optionally manned vehicles that can be manned or not depending on the gravity of the situation, the threat and all of those aspects. There are no tactics or doctrine to back that up yet; I just see that as a capability that we may be able to offer to give more flexibility to that commander.