FORT RUCKER, Ala. (August 14, 2014) -- Working organizational design change with one hand, while maintaining the combat power to respond to contingencies with the other hand, is a balancing act the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence has done before.
Back in 2004, while supporting the warfight in Iraq and Afghanistan, the task at hand was creating the current brigade design, according to Ellis Golson, director for the Capability Development and Integration Directorate. This time, it's the Army's Aviation Restructure Initiative intended to rebalance force structure into a smaller, more capable and sustainable Aviation force.
"The ARI impacts everything the Aviation Center does. We have got to produce Aviation professionals, and we've got to develop the future force. It impacts both of those directly, how we produce those individuals, what they are trained to do, and then also the force we are building, manning, equipping and training in the operational force," said Golson.
The ARI was approved by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno in December and the first execution order went out in April. The ARI looks to reduce costs while addressing fleet obsolescence and sustainment issues, and the impacts to Aviation are already being felt.
Col. John Lynch, a career Kiowa Aviator and special projects officer for the Capability Development and Integration Directorate, was on site at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Tucson, Ariz., when Kiowa aircraft and support equipment arrived for desert storage from 6th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, in May.
"The aircraft have served us well. I think everybody recognizes that," Lynch said.
The 6-17th then deployed to Korea without aircraft, Lynch said, since Kiowa Warriors were already in place from their predecessors there -- the 4th Attack Reconnaissance Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
With tightening purse strings, tough decisions had to be made concerning the armed aerial scout mission, Lynch said.
"We were getting to that point where we still had a valid requirement for armed aerial scout, which will be now filled in the interim by Apaches. Given the fiscal situation and the drawdown, we couldn't afford to go after a new program for the armed scout. This gives us the best plan with the most modernized platforms for the best Aviation force going forward," Lynch said. "It's really about getting the mission done. It's exciting times, and it's a big change."
The plan is for the divestiture of Kiowa Warriors to be completed over a period of four years.
The final classes of Kiowa Aviator and maintainer training at Fort Rucker and Fort Eustis, Va., are slated to be complete by the end of the current fiscal year.
For USAACE, which serves as the Army's requirements builder and trainer for Aviation, the big picture of the ARI requires a synchronization effort across the Aviation Enterprise where timing is key.
"The No. 1 priority is the manning equation. The Army's end strength is coming down, so Aviation has to come down with it. The Army is always about people. There are going to be hard decisions," Golson said.
"We are still required to have units deployed. We're still required to have units ready to deploy. And they can't be ready to deploy if they don't have all their equipment and people are not trained up," Golson said.
A major change to training is the dual-engine UH-72A slated to replace the single-engine TH-67 and OH-58A/C as the aircraft for initial entry training.
"We were looking at the TH-67 because it was starting to approach 20 years old. We were going to eventually have to do something to replace it, rebuild it, reset it, or something," Golson said.
Divesting of the Kiowa Warrior results in the Army no longer having single engine aircraft to train students to fly, which means potential changes to flight training; for example, whether touchdown auto-rotations are still needed, Golson said.
"Instructor pilots have to be retrained. The maintenance people have to be retrained, contracts adjusted, simulations changed. All that has to occur at the same time that we are reorganizing the operational force," Golson said.
Another piece to the overall picture is keeping modernization plans for the AH-64E, UH-60M, CH-47F and fielding of Gray Eagle, but adjusting the fielding time frames, Golson said.
"Because of budget constraints we are lengthening the fielding period. So we don't finish buying the last aircraft or (unmanned aircraft system) until later than what we had originally intended," Golson said.
Ongoing efforts involve unit transitions, updating doctrine, determining training requirements, fielding of equipment and transfer of equipment within the Army components.
The 1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade and the 4th Infantry Division Combat Aviation Brigade are slated for conversion to the new ARI CAB design beginning in September. The plan is for one AH-64-equipped attack reconnaissance battalion in each brigade to convert to a heavy attack reconnaissance squadron design, which includes adding platoons of Shadow UAS.
The overall task at hand is doable, but requires communication across the Aviation Enterprise, Golson said.
"We will fight the fight, not fight the plan," Golson said. "We're going to be flexible but still keep in mind the overall objective of producing a responsive Aviation force that is the best force we can produce within the fiscal constraints that we have."