Army looking at future of Aviation
Lt. Gen. Stephen M. Speaks, deputy chief of staff for Programs (G-8) (left) and Lt. Gen. N. Ross Thompson III, the military deputy/director, Army Acquisition Corps, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) answer audience questions about the future of Army aviation at the Association of the United States Army Aviation Symposium January 9.

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 12, 2009) - Army aviation resourcing is on track to meet the challenges of prolonged, 21st century combat, said two of the Army's top program and acquisition officials at the Association of the United States Army's Army Aviation Symposium Friday.

Lt. Gen. Stephen M. Speaks, deputy chief of staff for Programs (G-8) and Lt. Gen. N. Ross Thompson III, the military deputy/director, Army Acquisition Corps, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) said the needs of both today and tomorrow must be met through a combination of manned and unmanned aircraft and existing and emerging technologies.

"The most in-demand force in today's fight is that aviation force, and the force mix we've got out there today is highly relevant," said Speaks.

Rather than base the aviation fleet around a single type of aircraft, he said that it's very important that the Army have a variety of capabilities to meet the threats of both today and the future. While the need for new aircraft grows, the Army doesn't expect funding to keep up with it. Speaks said the Army must make smart decisions about how it uses its resources.

The Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program, which was supposed to replace the aging Kiowa Warrior aircraft, was cancelled in the fall of 2008 due to spiraling costs, for example, but Speaks said that doesn't mean the technology is going to disappear. Rather, the Army must balance the costs of both sustaining and converting the Kiowa while still pursuing a program to continue ARH development.

"What we're doing is relentlessly evaluating technology to see how mature it is and how capable it is at responding to the needs of Soldiers," Speaks explained. "When we started this conflict, we were the beneficiaries of a decade of a defense-procurement and human-resources-procurement holiday. We didn't have the basis in technology and capability and research that now is underlying the ability of the Army to reach into a program like (Future Combat Systems) and say, 'Okay, let's look at the robotics, let's look at the unmanned capabilities, let's look at our ability to use the network, and now what we can do is look to these very-robust research and development capabilities and assess them against the needs of the warfighter."

Thompson added that it's important to get new, FCS-enabled technologies into the hands of Soldiers and commanders as quickly as possible, both to help them on the battlefield, and to get their feedback about what works and what doesn't. New systems have to be networked and work together from the start, rather than trying to integrate different systems.

While he said traditional acquisition channels are still relevant to make sure a technology works and is ready for use (and the Army is adding about 2,500 civilians and officers to the acquisition workforce), he added that once it is, the Army can't sit on it, waiting for another FCS technology to be ready to deploy. Speaks pointed out that 10 or 20 years to develop a program is just too long and that even five years ago, no one could have predicted the battlespace the Army sees today.

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