One top priority for US Army Aviation is a more powerful replacement engine for Apache and Black Hawk helicopters. (US Army)
WASHINGTON — The outgoing head of US Army Aviation is as comfortable as one can be with the direction that his service’s investments are heading.
Maj. Gen. William Crosby is wrapping up his five years as the Army’s Program Executive Officer Aviation at the end of this month, and retiring from the Army, but he held his last press conference at the AUSA Army Aviation symposium on Jan. 14 in northern Virginia.
Crosby said his top priorities, which he is handing off to his successor, are the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) program and the L digital cockpit for the Black Hawk helicopter, which would upgrade older cockpits to the newest digital configuration.
“I think when we lay this out we’ll be able to appropriately resource those to get them on a better timeline,” he told reporters.
The Army created the ITEP in order to develop a more powerful replacement engine for the General Electric T-700s currently installed in the Boeing AH-64 Apache and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk.
The plan is for the replacement engine to kick out more horsepower but without adding weight, allowing them to simply be “dropped in” to existing platforms. The Army has also said it wants the replacement to decrease fuel usage by 25 percent, increase engine life by 20 percent and reduce acquisition and maintenance costs by 35 percent.
The Advanced Turbine Engine Co. (ATEC) is a 50/50 joint venture between Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney, and is competing against General Electric for the final contract award. The Army plans on releasing a request for proposals for the program this year with a final contract award coming in 2015.
“The hardest funds to defend in this environment are S&T, because we want gratification now” Crosby would say later in the day during a panel discussion. But he reiterated the need for the service to continue to invest in developing new technologies even as overall budgets stay flat or even fall.
“When you reduce budgets there’s got to be a balance between sustainment, modernization, and S&T,” he insisted.
When it comes to the Army’s long sought replacement to the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter, which has performed the aerial scout mission for the service for decades, Crosby said, “the scout mission is still valid. Unfortunately, sometimes what we do is tie a mission to a platform, but we’ve been doing that mission for a long time with the Kiowa.”
The Army scuttled its Armed Aerial Scout program in 2013, after enlisting the defense industry in a costly development program that eventually fell out of favor with service leadership.
In December, Defense News reported that Army leadership was considering scrapping its entire fleet of Bell Helicopter OH-58 Kiowa Warriors, while pulling the National Guard’s Boeing AH-64 Apaches into the active-duty force to fill the scout helicopter role.
“There was an [Analysis of Alternatives] some time back that said the best scout was an Apache,” Crosby said. “But we couldn’t afford to buy the Apaches. So thinking in those terms, if we’re going to come down in strength and size, we certainly don’t want to part with any new Apaches, so why not use them in a scout role?”
The Army’s previous attempt to replace the Kiowa was the Comanche helicopter program, which was canceled in 2004.
The Comanche “was the most amazing aircraft ever built,” Crosby insisted, “but we made a tough decision” in the Army to use the funds that would build the helicopter for more pressing wartime needs. ■