WASHINGTON — Key US Army aviation modernization plans — Future Vertical Lift, the Improved Engine Turbine program and digital cockpit upgrades for Black Hawks — all hinge on the service's cost-cutting Aviation Restructure Initiative (ARI), senior service officials said on Thursday.
The plan, which has stirred controversy is controversial with National Guard advocates, is unpalatable but necessary in light of sequestration budget cuts, said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn, speaking at an Association of of the US Army aviation event here.
The restructure calls for the service to divest its fleet of OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters and use the AH-64 Apache to fill the Kiowa's reconnaissance and scout role. It would pull Apaches from the Guard inventory to fill the gap, and, in turn, provide the Guard with UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The Army would also cut three of its 13 combat aviation brigades, while the Guard retains all 10 of its brigadesCABs.
Maj. Gen. Mike Lundy, commander of the Army Aviation Center of Excellence, at Fort Rucker, Alabama, said the Army has had gone through "thousands of models" to arrive at its plan.
Even as budget cuts threaten modernization programs, the goal is to field the AH-64 Apache "E" model, the UH-60 Black Hawk "M" model, as well as technologies that allow helicopter crews to see in brown-outs or other degraded visual environments (DVE), Lundy said.
"We can't wait for [Future Vertical Lift] for that capability," he said. "I challenge industry to get after that, because that will be one of our focus areas, and ARI will allow us to put money against that program, so we can bring that capability earlier than 2037."
Last week at Fort Rucker, the Army aviation's science and technology community, met to discuss a number advanced technologies needed in the future, including advanced motors and rotors, jammers and countermeasures, and technology that would enable crews to not just fly through obscurants, but fight as well, according to Lundy said.
The restructure calls for the service to divest its fleet of OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters and use the AH-64 Apache to fill the Kiowa's reconnaissance and scout role. It would pull Apaches from the Guard inventory to fill the gap, and, in turn, provide the Guard with UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The Army would also cut three of its 13 combat aviation brigades, while the Guard retains all 10 of its CABs.
Allyn decried sequestration budget cuts as "devastating," and said another round would, "be felt for a decade and potentially put the lives of soldiers at risk." Unlike conflicts of recent decades, there has been no room for a peace dividend, he said, as combat aviation brigades are as busy around the world as ever.
If the cuts should come — and Army officials seem to argue against them in every public appearance — the service's plan is to protect its the service's three combat training centers. Allyn challenged aviators to use their budgets to craft innovative training approaches, as the Army expands its embrace of virtual training.
Still, Lundy said if sequestration is not abated, "I have some very draconian decisions to make ... across the entire [aviation] portfolio." Programs like the Joint Multirole hHelicopter and Future Vertical Lift might not be derailed, but they would be slowed, and buys on legacy aircraft would get trimmed as well.
"My concern is if we go to worst case, it would impact almost every modernization program we've got," he said, adding later: "We are really counting on these technologies coming out right now. Twenty more knots of speed, right now, is what we need."
In the meantime, the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has provided the service with room to inactivate and transfer OH-58Ds, and swap its training aircraft from the TH-67 Creek to the LUH-72A Lakota. The law bars the Apache transfers in fiscal 2015, allowing as many as 48 aircraft to be moved the following year, and it calls for a National Commission on the Future Structure of the Army to evaluate the ARI and the overall balance between active, Guard, and reserve forces — reporting back by Feb. 1, 2016.
"The good news is Congress gave us room to make preparatory measures, like train our aviators on the future fleet this fiscal year, so that as aircraft are moved around the force, there are trained pilots flying them," Allyn said.
The Army's overarching operating concept aligns with Future Vertical Lift technologies, ones that would allow troops to be dispersed and mass quickly, and engines that would allow legacy aircraft more range, fuel efficiency and the power to maneuver in mega-cities.
"Sixty percent of the world's population will be in mega-cities, so we should expect our aviators to be able to cozy in, make the approach to some [landing zones] ... get in there with great acceleration and great power," he said.
The Army is seeking technologies to upgrade the Army's its network, as well as technology to counter advanced shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, seen among fighters in Libya and Syria, Lundy said. Upgrades for the Chinook are necessary, Lundy said, because they, "they have done some extraordinary things, but they're tired."