NASHVILLE -- In his first briefing as the program executive officer for aviation at the annual Army Aviation Association of America Mission Solutions Summit on May 6, the Army's aviation acquisition executive conveyed his goals and priorities for the aviation portfolio.
Given the realities of constrained budgets, Brig. Gen. Bob Marion emphasized that Army aviation's guiding principle must be to maintain balance among readiness, end strength and modernization, echoing the words of other Army senior leaders.
"Embedded in our budget is tremendous opportunity for modernization," Marion said. He noted that aviation has the largest portfolio in the Army. "Every other portfolio in the Army would love to have the austere times that we do."
He emphasized that although Army aviation will take approximately a $10 billion cut in the fiscal year 2015 budget, the importance is on the percentage of aviation funding compared with other portfolios. Aviation was allotted $5.51 billion in FY 2014 and $5.41 billion in FY 2015. However, aviation's FY '15 number is 27 percent of the total budget compared with 23 percent in FY '14. "We have a much larger percentage of the Army's total RDA (Research, Development and Acquisition) accounts. This is a huge recognition of the capability that our formations and our industrial complex deliver."
Marion recounted the remarks of Heidi Shyu, the Army's acquisition executive, who underlined Army aviation's priorities, namely the Improved Turbine Engine Program and the Joint Multi-Role Technical Demonstrator, which will help guide the Army's Future Vertical Lift initiative.
"That is a big deal for us," Marion said. "We don't want to forego modernization. We don't want to forget about the opportunities that are in front of us. We have to be diligent and execute everything we say we are going to in these austere times for our branch in order to be successful, especially when it comes to modernization."
Marion re-emphasized Shyu's comments about the five-layered pyramid, which calls for divestment, reset and sustainment, modernizing of existing platforms, new capabilities, and at the top of the pyramid, the need for continuous improvements in science and technology.
"What Ms. Shyu was articulating is our responsibility for life cycle management. That happens within all those formations and stakeholders with whom we interact every day. It is our responsibility to manage systems all the way through the life cycle. And we really have to pay close attention to everything that we are doing in that pyramid in order to be successful."
Marion told about the days of the Comanche program, particularly when the Army decided that it was in the service's best interest to cancel the program. Referring to the modernization slide in his charts that details the acquisition path ahead in light of the Aviation Restructure Initiative, Marion said he first saw a similar chart for the acquisition strategy 10 years ago when Comanche was canceled. "We were going to fence the dollars -- keep it inside the aviation portfolio -- and modernize existing aviation platforms. When I look at this chart, I think about that discussion in the theater. And I think anyone looking back at those 10 years can say, 'that was the right decision.'
"People in this room executed those programs and fought those systems in a way that proved that those decisions were right, and we executed them," Marion said. "So today, we're looking at this chart in a similar light with ARI, and doing things in our branch that are going to be big changes. Ten years from now, we want the person who will be briefing a similar chart to be able to look back and say, 'Those people in 2014 made the right decisions, and that time and history has proven that they delivered capability that enabled ground force commanders to go anywhere around the world and execute the missions that they are responsible to do.'"
Marion credited the PEO Aviation workforce, the aviation materiel enterprise, and industry partners for accomplishing all the things that the Army aviation modernization strategy had set out to do.
"For the most part, everything we said we were going to do in this portfolio, we have done," Marion said. The big difference between the post-Comanche days and today's ARI strategy however, is that Comanche dollars went exclusively toward aviation modernization. "For us, we have a lot of money in the portfolio, but we're not in the same financial situation we were in 10 years ago. It does not mean we can't execute. It just means we have a tougher challenge," he said.
A question-and-answer session was held later in the afternoon on the exhibit floor and included Marion, Maj. Gen. Lynn Collyar, Aviation and Missile Command commander; and seven of the eight project managers from PEO Aviation. AAAA attendees, defense industry representatives and members of the media had an opportunity to ask the group questions for an hour. Most of the discussion revolved around the Army's divestment strategy for the OH-58Ds, Degraded Visual Environment efforts, and the Army's fixed wing programs as it relates to aerial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
"These are always fantastic forums and the opportunity to be able to talk with Soldiers, our gray beards in the aviation community, and defense industry, helps to level set me on what is really going on across our community and across this enterprise," Marion said.
He challenged the aviation community, especially those in defense industry, to remain 100 percent committed, dedicated and disciplined in executing programs "the way we say we are going to -- on schedule and on budget."
"PEO Aviation having the largest portfolio in the Army is a direct reflection on Soldiers in combat executing and enabling ground forces. That is a huge accomplishment for everyone in this forum," Marion said.
"My plea and my challenge to all of you, especially our industry partners, is when we come to you with our RFP (Request for Proposal), propose back to us what you can do. Because while we are the largest portfolio in the Army, we are also a huge target. It takes all the key stakeholders -- the entire aviation enterprise -- in order for us to be successful. Execute, obligate and disburse those dollars and deliver capabilities into our Soldiers' hands."