Army aviation innovating despite soaring through budgetary headwinds
January 22, 2014
By David Vergun
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- Army News Service
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 22, 2014) -- Fewer dollars means that for Army aviation to remain relevant and ready, it will need to better partner with industry and its sister-services, become more flexible and expeditionary and equip its squadrons with the best intelligence tools it can afford.
That was one assessment posited during a panel discussion at the Association of the United States Army's Aviation Symposium, Jan. 15, in Arlington, Va.
FLYING WITH INTEL
Despite a shrinking budget, Army aviation will continue to become even more valuable to commanders and Soldiers on the ground through its investment in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, sensors and software, said panel member Lt. Gen. Mary A. Legere, deputy chief of staff, Army G-2.
Some 60 percent of Army aviation mission requests in Afghanistan are for ISR. These types of missions are becoming so critical that high-level military intelligence officers are being embedded in the combat aviation brigades, or CABs, to assist commanders and provide improved integration, Legere said.
As the unmanned aerial system transitions to the Gray Eagle, Army aviation's intel capabilities will further increase, she said, and although the cost of adding new sensors will not go down, those sensors will be smarter and add increased capability for target identification and acquisition.
Further improvements are needed, she said, in training, cultural understanding and leader development as it relates to the integration of the intelligence and aviation communities.
She illustrated the importance of intelligence on the battlefield and how aviation can assist with that, using a movie analogy.
In the 2012 film "Zero Dark Thirty," which chronicled the capture of Osama Bin Laden, she said, "99 percent of the time was spent looking for the enemy and the last one percent was dropping the bomb."
The future of Army aviation will include more sealift capability as expeditionary requirements increase, predicted panel member Lt. Gen. James O. Barclay III, deputy chief of staff, Army G-8.
He also said future programs, in order to survive, will increasingly have to have a "joint capability" aspect to them. The services will also need to operate and cooperate much more effectively, Barclay said.
Panel member Maj. Gen. William T. Crosby, program executive officer, Aviation, pointed to the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter as an example of successful joint-service cooperation.
"It was one of the most successful examples of a joint program working," he said. "We should try to use that as a model."
Cooperation with industry partners is also important, Crosby said. As Army aviation acquires intellectual property, it needs to protect the research and development investments that industry has made in those properties, meaning those investments need to be incentivized.
Phillips agreed with Crosby's assessment, adding that Army aviation needs to communicate clearly its requirements so industry doesn't waste resources on things the Army won't buy.
LEAN BUT STILL MEAN
Although Army aviation will have a smaller force structure, it will likely have effective capabilities if investments continue to be made in science and technology, or S&T, said panel member Lt. Gen. William N. Phillips, military deputy/director, Army Acquisition Corps, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology).
A smaller but still capable force could be tailored to be globally responsive for regionally aligned missions, he added.
"Our best program managers are linked back into the S&T community," Phillips said. "They know what's being researched, worked on, and tested, things that will enhance our capability and in some cases backfill our requirements down the road."
He used the example of research into load bearing on old helicopter platforms, which are increasingly carrying more weight as new equipment is added.
Barclay also said operational energy will continue to be important to Army aviation, as helicopter engines become more fuel efficient -- up to 25 percent more.
He cited cost savings in fuel and a decreased logistical tail and said senior Army leaders realize the benefits. Barclay said he'd like to see Army aviation continue to lead the military in its energy-saving endeavors.
Besides leading in energy development, Barclay noted that Army aviation will continue taking a lead role in drawing down troops and equipment from Afghanistan, with the demand for aircraft increasing as troops and their gear decrease.
Barclay said there's enough in the overseas contingency operation budget to make that happen this year and what happens next depends on the level of forces that will remain, pending a security agreement with the Afghan government.
An area that concerns him, and that needs careful monitoring, is funding for reset. Barclay noted that once a piece of gear leaves Afghanistan, funding for three years is needed as that gear goes through the reset process at the depots and arsenals.
VIEW FROM HILL
Congress will delve fully into Army aviation concerns until after the current budget is passed, and then only after it sees the fiscal year 2015 budget proposals from the services, said panel member John Wason, professional staff member, House Armed Services Committee.
So far, Army leadership "has been very engaging (with Congress) in describing what they need and the challenges facing the Army," he said, encouraging leaders to continue to be forthright.
"Bottom line, in the face of constrained resources, Congress will do what it needs to do to meet the national security strategy requirements," he said, meaning that he predicts legislators won't be fixated with which component or service gets what, but they'll be focusing instead on overall military readiness coupled with budgetary considerations.
Although the Army has gotten a budget reprieve in fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2015, Wason said sequestration "is still very much alive and well and there will continue to be long-term and sometimes unforeseen effects."
The House Armed Services Committee will begin debating the fiscal year 2015 budget in June, he said. Then it will wait for the Senate's deliberations.
Wason said this year will likely be different from other years when the service chiefs and secretaries appeared before the subcommittee. He thinks this year the combatant commanders will be invited to testify first before the details of the budget are hashed out.
Members in the House and Senate will be asking a lot of questions about force structure and how Army aviation can accomplish its mission with less, he said. "It will be a process of continual engagement."
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