Army aviation facing 'exciting, uncertain future'
January 11, 2013
By David Vergun
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WASHINGTON. (Army News Service, Jan. 11, 2013) -- The current fiscal environment poses significant challenges for Army aviation, as well as the rest of the Army and the Defense Department, said Lt. Gen. James O. Barclay III, deputy chief of staff, G-8.
Looming budget battles, likelihood of more continuing resolutions, the coming debt ceiling debate, a possibility of sequestration, lack of a 2013 budget and an already tight budget were some of the challenges Barclay described during a four-person panel discussion dubbed "View from the E-Ring" at the Association of the U.S. Army's Aviation Symposium in National Harbor."
The Army faces "complex problems and tough decisions" in the years ahead, said Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum, commander, Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, Ala., in a related session, "Commandant's Cockpit Perspective", which followed the panel discussion. "We face an exciting and uncertain future."
The way forward, Mangum said, is to approach the "big problems with a big team. We need to have a continuing dialog with the rest of the Army -- budget, acquisition, special operations and conventional ground forces as well as industry partners. These conversations need to continue every day, not just at events like these."
Mangum said Army aviation "lost the close link we had with ground forces during Vietnam." To keep that relationship after Afghanistan will require "collaborating on a more regular and systematic basis" on such things as network, planning and more integrated training.
Panelist John Wason, professional staff member, House Armed Services Committee, went even further.
"Army aviation needs to coordinate with Army staff and they in turn need to talk a lot, not just to congressmen, but also to industry leaders, state legislatures and other representatives," he said.
Wason said Army aviation "will likely decrease in these uncertain times," but added that Army aviation "played an incredible role in the past and will continue to do so in the future."
"The people who best tell the Army aviation story are our ground leaders and the other services," offered Barclay. "They tell about what a good job we have done over the last 10 years. We don't beat our own chests."
Army aviation has a good dialogue with the other services, Barclay added, citing unmanned aircraft systems, known as UAS, which are often procured jointly to avoid duplication of efforts and save costs.
Army aviation is "driving down costs by going increasingly to multi-year contracts, and showing those cost savings to Congress," said panelist Lt. Gen. William N. Phillips, military deputy/director, Army Acquisition Corps, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology).
Phillips said the improved turbine engine program, which will be more energy-efficient, is another "win-win" for the Army, industry and the taxpayers. He added that the Army is having a continual dialogue with its industry partners and they realize the Army needs to get a better bang for its buck.
"It costs Army aviation more to fly it than to buy it," said panelist Col. Patrick E. Tierney, director of Aviation, G-3/5/7. He was referring to the high training and personnel costs involved in flying an aircraft compared to buying an unmanned aircraft.
"A UAS can stay aloft 22 hours, return, refuel and re-launch," Tierney said, adding that keeping an Apache in the air that long would be more costly. While not predicting an end to manned aircraft, he called UAS a "game changer" and said the Army will see a lot more of them in the future.
The "Future Vertical Lift," or FVL, aircraft is key to Army strategy going forward, said Phillips. He said it is the right platform the Army needs to serve ground commanders and that the life-cycle cost of that program has already been looked at going out to 2030 and 2040.
FVL will increase the range, payload and mobility Soldiers need to stay in the fight in a large battlespace, said Mangum.
Also, FVL is cost-effective as it is a joint program with the Army taking the lead on its development, he added.
Mangum said Army aviation's primary focus should be "dedicated to honoring that sacred trust with commanders and Soldiers on ground. It is the crux of why Army aviation exists."
He related the story of a meeting he had with Army leaders, including Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III. Mangum said he asked them a pretty basic question: "What does Army aviation mean to you?"
Mangum said Chandler related how in March 2003 in Iraq, the then-first sergeant and his Soldiers came under intense enemy attack while traveling in a convoy. During the firefight, three of his Soldiers became critically wounded.
"I've known the sergeant major to not get emotional, but he started getting emotional," said Mangum. "He told me 'what Army aviation meant to me that day and every day since is that the sound of help is on the way to evacuate critically wounded Soldiers and to get the bad guys.'"
Mangum added a postscript that all three critically wounded Soldiers survived and that Chandler relating this story "changed the whole tone of the discussion that followed."