Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, spoke to a packed crowd during a morning session at the Army Aviation Association of America's annual Mission Solutions Summit at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn. Apr. 27.

Gayler thanked the association for the opportunity to connect with industry, and to celebrate 75 years of Army Aviation.

"It's phenomenal to look back at [how far] Aviation has come since 1942, and even since our branch was formed in 1983. It is clear to see that everything we do is about the ground force," Gayler said.

Gayler said the vision for the branch today is "a professional, modernized force that is solely focused on the ground forces whom we support to provide capabilities and options for combatant commanders through reach, protection, and lethality, to win in a complex world. That is why we exist."

"When we ever start thinking of a capability for our branch, it's not a capability for aviation, it's a capability for a commander on the ground. Every dollar we spend on aviation is a dollar spent on the ground force. We do not exist for ourselves," he explained.

Gayler described the Army as concept-based and doctrinally-driven, which requires looking to the future to develop context such as Training and Doctrine Command has done with the Army Operating Concept, and also the Multi-Domain Battle concept of how to fight in the future.

This includes battlefields that are becoming incredibly lethal and increasingly contested, with actors that are tough to discriminate, technology advances that have manifested as long surface-to-surface capabilities of adversaries, to affect, disrupt and in some cases deny in all domains, and multiple types of threats in all domains.

"The [adversaries] have developed capability to attempt to deny our advantage, and there is risk of potential overmatch," Gayler said.

"You must be able to dominate, either locally or broadly, domains for periods of time for temporal superiority so that you can synchronize cross-domain effects to enable joint freedom of maneuver," Gayler said. "We have to translate that into a capability."

Aviation is part of the movement and maneuver warfighting function, to "find stuff, move stuff, kill stuff," for a force on the ground, to drive the tempo of the fight and to present the enemy with multiple dilemmas, he said.

Gayler said the budget is the number one threat to readiness across the Department of Defense.

"We cannot go into a Budget Control Act in 2018," Gayler said. "That would put at risk many, many things--immediate readiness and modernization programs."

Aviation remains in high demand, with more than 30 percent of the force committed every day.

"We need to rebuild, regain collective battalion level readiness," Gayler said.

Gayler said the modernization plan is necessary and capabilities based. Reach, protection and lethality translate to a capability, he explained.

Priorities for Aviation will continue to be the Improved Turbine Engine Program, the Block II CH-47 upgrade, Aviation Survivability Equipment, Degraded Visual Environment solutions, future Unmanned Aircraft Systems solutions and small precision guided munitions capabilities, and ultimately to field Future Vertical Lift capability.

Gayler said the important dialogue with industry about capability can be challenging.

"It should be 'I want better than we have today for our ground forces'. No less capable. Better," he said.

He gave examples of "operationalizing" Aviation requirements, in terms of capability to move a Brigade Combat Team over a period of darkness over an operationally significant distance; aircraft that are quicker to the place of need; airframes that can transit the depth and breadth of a division and corps battle space in the future of potentially 500 km as quickly as we quickly as we transit them today with 200 km fronts; and the option for combatant commanders to self-deploy with the speed and range necessary to do that.

Gayler said Aviation must have the capability to protect airframes and the Soldiers they carry, and the ability to carry more stowed kills onboard our airframes, with an emphasis on operating in contested environments.

"That's the kind of operationalizing of a requirement. That's what we've got to provide our Soldiers in the future. And we will stay focused on that like a laser beam," he said.

Gayler said the Army has a shortage of pilots. He emphasized keeping quality aviators in the Army, and building back capacity in all formations, including at Fort Rucker. To train more aviators requires putting resources into Fort Rucker.

"Our nation's security depends on it," Gayler said.

Gayler thanked his 'teammates on board', the USAACE Command Sergeant Major, Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory M. Chambers and Chief Warrant Officer of the Branch CW5 Joseph B. Roland for being there. The leaders hosted separate breakout sessions during the event that provided panels of experts to speak about issues impacting enlisted Soldiers and warrant officer Aviators.

Gayler also took a moment to publicly thank, on behalf of the Aviation branch, a member of Army Aviation's legacy of service who was in the audience, Lt. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum, as he transitions out of the service. Mangum served as Training and Doctrine Command's deputy commanding general, and was a former Army Aviation branch chief.

"I would like to say thanks for three plus decades of incredible soldiering, leadership, mentorship and friendship to every single one of us."