HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Maj. Gen. Doug Gabram, commander, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, presented a unified front for readiness and sustainment during his keynote address to defense industry representatives at the Army Aviation Association of America symposium here on Nov. 15.

"We are moving forward on this. We are moving out in unity as a team," Gabram said. "We are going to strengthen that bond -- that sacred trust -- that makes Army Aviation an enabler. If we don't support that Soldier on the ground, then we're nothing. We are going back to the center, to the Soldier. If it's not about the Soldiers, then it's not important."

Gabram informed the audience Army Aviation must increase its response capabilities, reduce the Soldier burden, improve operational availability, reduce the logistics footprint and decrease life cycle costs.

In his 33-year career as an aviator, Gabram said he "has never seen the challenges that we face right now on this global landscape." That's why Gabram referenced enterprise documents signed by Army Aviation leadership that lay out goals for Army Aviation, including increasing its response capabilities, reducing the Soldier burden, improving operational availability, reducing the logistics footprint and decreasing life cycle costs.

While the U.S. military continues its long-term fight against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, the near-peer threat in other parts of the world has caused Army leadership to look for ways to further bolster its military strength in allied countries.

"Every day, the question is 'What have you done to ensure readiness to take care of the Soldier?' Our priorities are Korea, the Central Command, the Forces Command and Europe. Our primary mission is to make sure we are as ready as we can be," Gabram said.

Because of increased global military requirements, Gabram said the Army has leveraged aviation modernization for readiness. It has also worked to develop a more expeditionary aviation force rather than a fixed base force, and it has worked to reduce the technology gap so that Army Aviation systems are technologically more advanced than that of near-peer competitors.

"But I believe mass matters," he said. "You can be the most technologically advanced. But if they have 25 to 30 to your one, you're going to lose. Today, we risk being outmanned, outgunned and outdated, and that's very concerning as we focus on readiness."

To be truly expeditionary, the Army has to be able to move a battalion strategically and quickly.
"We need to be more flexible and agile. Speed does matter. It takes us too long to get to the fight," Gabram said.

Army Aviation has to not only be able to find the right balance of readiness, modernization and maintenance for its force, but it also has to determine the best way to optimize its legacy fleet of AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters.

"We have to preserve the reach, protection and lethal advantages of our aviation fleet. We need to know how many helicopters and what type of helicopters we will need in 15 to 20 years. We need to know what we need in the way of recapitalization and reset," Gabram said.

"The good news is we're talking about it and we can see it coming. But we have to know what's good enough. If we add capability to aircraft, we also need to consider how much weight we are adding. We also need to think about our sustainment strategy and condition-based maintenance. All aspects have to be considered."

The Army Aviation Enterprise Sustainment Strategy, the Holistic Aviation Assessment Task Force and the Condition Based Maintenance-Plus Strategy have the support of the entire Army Aviation branch as represented by the three general officers: Gabram, Maj. Gen. William Gayler, Commander of the Aviation Center of Excellence, and Brig. Gen. Thomas Todd, the Program Executive Officer for Aviation.

"We have to have branch support for these initiatives," Gabram said. "Condition Based Maintenance has been working for about two years, but then we put the brakes on it because we didn't have a synchronized effort. It didn't fail, it just wasn't as synchronized as it needed to be in terms of training and fielding.

"But the CBM sensors have paid dividends at the tactical level. Now, how do they affect the strategic level? As part of the Sustainment Strategy Objectives, they will help us to be more expeditionary, reduce Soldier burden and improve operational availability."

Today, Apache helicopters worldwide have reached a fully-mission capable rate of about 70 percent, just five percentage points short of the 75 percent standard. Black Hawk helicopters have hit a fully-mission capable rate of 76 percent and Chinook helicopters are at 73 percent.

"And, supply availability for all aviation is about 87 percent. That's not bad, but our goal is 100 percent," Gabram said. "As our supply availability goes up, our operational readiness rates will trend up."

Supply availability and CBM both have a significant impact on all Army systems, not just on aviation systems. The Army is reviewing Army Aviation's experience with CBM during the past 15 years to glean lessons learned that can be applied to other Army systems.

"CBM is extremely important as we look toward the future," Gabram said. "This is very important at the strategic level. But, so, too, is decreasing life cycle costs. We know that sustainment costs are 60 to 70 percent of the total life cycle costs of a system. We have to work to bring those costs down."

Toward that end, the Army wants industry to provide visibility to certain technical data to increase efficiency and lower future sustainment costs.

"We want to repair a lot of our aviation systems in the organic industrial base at Corpus Christi Army Depot (Texas). This is not something we are used to doing," Gabram said, adding as AMCOM develops processes, the availability and use of technical data will have to be part of the conversations.

In addition, industry can help by working with the Army on the speed, accuracy and quality of systems as well as supply accountability, cost effectiveness, subcontractor performance and flexible contracting vehicles. Much of the issue between industry and the Army can be resolved through regular and honest communication, Gabram said. For example, AMCOM has started a monthly supply/contract meeting with two primary original equipment manufacturers to increase collaboration.

"When we talk parts and issues, we need to have a common operating picture. Industry has one view and the Army has another. Having a common picture and accurately defining the problem is critical," he said.