WASHINGTON — As the Army looks to bring on two future helicopters by 2030, the service is planning to review its entire aviation fleet in fiscal 2023, Lt. Gen. James Pasquarette, the Army G-8, told Defense News in an Oct. 8 interview.
Over the past several years, the Army has said it is at “an inflection point” when it comes to prioritizing modernization in order to ensure soldiers can fight in a multidomain environment against near-peer adversaries. Part of that is ensuring the Army is balanced properly when it comes to making sure the current fleet is ready while funding the ambitious development of two new aircraft along with a number of other enablers like a digital backbone, air-launched effects and a new engine, to name a few.
In FY20, the Army took controversial steps to shift funding from the current fleet to the future one when it decided it would not buy Block II CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopters for the active force, opting to procure the variant just for special operations.
Congress has pushed back on that decision in both its FY20 and FY21 defense bills, injecting funding into the program to keep the pump primed to build Block II Chinooks for the active component against the Army’s wishes.
So far the Army isn’t planning on backing down on its decision to scale down and only buy the Block II variant for special operations.
“The Army’s position has not changed. I mean, our position is we don’t have to make a decision,” Pasquarette said.
“It’s based on the age of the fleet and other factors,” Pasquarette said. “Our concern is that if Congress decides that we need to move down the Block II path here ... that starts to push out dollars against our modernization priorities that we’re very concerned about.”
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy also signaled during an Oct. 8 interview with Defense News that tough decisions on the aviation fleet would have to be made as the FLRAA and FARA aircraft begin to fly.
The prototype aircraft for FARA are expected to start flying in the fourth quarter of FY22 and the engineering and manufacturing development phase is expected to begin in FY24.
FLRAA prototypes will be delivered in roughly the summer of 2026.
The last time the Army restructured its fleet was in 2013 to deal with impending budget cuts and reductions that would have been made through sequestration. The effort was a way to take control of what was cut rather than let every program across the board take salami-slice chops.
As a result, the service decided to retire its OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters and use AH-64E Apache attack helicopters paired with Shadow unmanned aircraft systems to fill the armed scout role until future aircraft could come online.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.