Army aviation soaring high despite plummeting budget
May 7, 2014
By David Vergun
NASHVILLE (Army News Service, May 7, 2014) -- Army aviation's funding is down to bare bones, but its portfolios make up the largest portion of the Army's RDA budget, said the service's top research, development and acquisition official.
Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, spoke Monday, at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel during the 2014 Mission Solutions Summit of the Army Aviation Association of America, known as Quad A.
Before explaining how the money will be spent, she provided a reality-check look at an important part of the budget.
In 2012, the projected research, development and acquisition budget for the entire Army, including aviation, in fiscal year 2015, was anticipated to be $32.6 billion, she said. Even with the current budget compromise, the actual RDA budget for fiscal year 2015 is now under $21 billion in the proposed budget sent to Congress.
"We had to make difficult decisions about modernization and priorities across the board," she emphasized, adding that "aviation assets are absolutely critical enablers across the spectrum."
To give as much bang for the buck as possible, "we're being strategic and decisive in these uncertain times, focusing our resources on what matters the most," Shyu said before going into specifics about exactly what the Army is doing.
The Army is steering away from year-to-year contracts and aiming for multi-year procurement, she said. This is a "win-win" for government and industry, with the Army getting up to 15 percent or more discount for multi-year and industry partners getting more stability for their workforce and predictable funding, part of which they can then reinvest into research and development, she explained.
For example, multi-year contracts are now being used to modernize Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters with things like cockpit digitization and improved turbine engines, she said.
Divestment is another strategy being used to free up dollars for mission-critical systems.
The Army is on a fast track to divest its aging systems, such as many of its single-engine aircraft, which have high sustainment costs, she said. Plus, they're no longer needed from a tactical or strategic sense.
Resetting aircraft from Afghanistan is eating a lot of the budget. Resetting an aircraft takes three years from the time it leaves theater. Funding to do this depends on getting continued overseas contingency operation, known as OCO, funding from Congress. Any shortfalls in OCO funding will affect this effort, she warned.
This fiscal year, the Army will reset 270 aircraft, and next fiscal year will reset 252, she added.
Modernization of existing platforms to increase capabilities through incremental upgrades takes another chunk of money. "This is where the bulk of aviation dollars will be spent this FY," she said.
For example, the Improved Turbine Engine Program, or ITEP, is a great leap forward to the next-generation engine, which will reduce fuel consumption 25 percent, increase performance, improve reliability and lower maintenance by 35 percent, she said. ITEP also will increase engine life by 20 percent, and decrease horsepower-to-weight ratio by 65 percent.
Another slice of the budget is new capabilities. "This is where we're taking some risks," she said. The aim is to "not start new programs we cannot afford to finish."
While there's some risk involved, they are calculated, she said, giving specific examples:
The Army is investing in systems like the Joint Air Ground Missile. "JAGM will enable us to counter moving targets as well as increase lethality," she said.
Another, the Air Crew Integrated Helmet System, is made from a high-performance, advanced-composite material that will increase protection, while being 20 percent lighter in weight, she said.
The helmet system also includes laser eye-protection visors, as well as a communication enhance-and-protection system, which allows dismounted air crew to hear and localize sounds while off the aircraft and during escape-and-evade actions, she said. The system also includes new facial shields that protect the air crew from ballistic threats.
The Common Missile Warning System is another technology now in the development phase, she said.
Finally, Army aviation will continue to invest in science and technology, she said, focusing on next-generation breakthrough technologies that will significantly provide greater capabilities for aviation platforms. These capabilities will be greater range and maneuverability, ability to operate at will in a degraded or contested environment and lower life-cycle costs.
Shyu said she personally has the deepest admiration for aviators.
"I heard many stories from my own grandfather who was an aviator," she said. "He was in the very first class that China stood up. He fought the communists and the Japanese during World War II.
"That's one of the reasons I took this job -- to give back to this great nation."
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