NASHVILLE -- Army aviation readiness has climbed 15 percent over the past three years while units continue to work at "warp speed" to support missions across the world, leaders recently said.
The Army currently consumes 16-plus combat aviation brigades' worth of combat power to sustain existing requirements, said Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, deputy commander of Army Forces Command.
In the active component, the deployment-to-dwell ratio now stands at about 1 to 2.3 years, with some CABs turning slightly faster to execute the next mission, she said.
Expeditionary CABs in the reserve component have a mobilization-to-dwell ratio of about 1 to 5 years, while medical evacuation and heavy lift units operate at just under 1 to 4.
When not deployed, units regularly conduct home-station training, rotations to combat training centers, humanitarian assistance and other duties in support of homeland defense.
"If anyone says we have extra, additional aviation assets just sitting around, they are absolutely misinformed," Richardson said April 15 at a conference hosted by the Army Aviation Association of America, or Quad A. "There is no excess capacity."
Since three years ago, when FORSCOM began intensive reviews of aviation readiness, rates have increased about 15 percent in aggregate, she said.
"Every action we take, every flight that we fly, every repair part we put on an aircraft, must equate to readiness," she said.
This is part of the Army's No. 1 priority, she said, to build the most ready and capable force possible with irreversible momentum by 2022. At that time, the focus will then shift to create a modern force by 2028, followed by multi-domain dominance by 2034.
Army senior leaders have already begun to align funds to support existing aircraft and develop new fleets that can provide overmatch against near-peer competitors.
In the aviation portfolio, about $24.1 billion has been requested for fiscal years 2020-2024. Nearly $7 billion is slotted for research, development, testing and evaluation, while $17.5 billion is for procurement.
"The critical role of Army aviation in worldwide missions continues to grow," said Jeffrey White, the Army's principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition. "We're incrementally modernizing the existing fleet while we're preparing for a competitive aviation advantage with the next generation of aircraft."
Deeper in the portfolio is a nearly $5.7 billion investment in Black Hawk helicopters, which can buy about 200 UH-60M models and upgrade around 160 UH-60L models to UH-60Vs, along with the associated training, equipment, publications and fielding costs, he said.
Apache helicopters have a nearly $4.7 billion investment, which is enough to purchase 210 AH-64E models and also provide upgrades to the existing fleet.
About $4.4 billion is for Future Vertical Lift, which includes plans to develop the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft and Future Long Range Assault Aircraft that aim to replace some Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, respectively.
"These investments align with our modernization focus to make Soldiers and units more lethal to win our nation's wars and come home safely," White said at the conference.
White, a former Army aviation officer, added a culture change in acquisition is needed to speed up the requirements process in order to get aviation assets out to Soldiers quicker.
"We need to prototype early, we need to do more testing and learning, more technology demonstrations," he said.
Aviation has also benefited from the use of Other Transaction Authority, or OTA, which can cut through the bureaucratic red tape to streamline the acquisition process.
Program Executive Office for Aviation has already awarded over $88.5 million using OTAs for unmanned aerial systems and the Black Hawk and Apache fleets, he said.
"OTAs are out there and we're going to use them," he said. "They're a tool in our portfolio and expect to see us use them more often."
Even as the Army transitions to Future Vertical Lift, today's aircraft will remain in service for a long period of time, said Brig. Gen. David Francis, director of Army aviation for the deputy chief of staff, G-3/5/7.
"What we don't want to do is neglect that fleet and allow it to go into disarray," he said. "So, we're going to continue to modernize our current fleet so that we can be ready to fight tonight with what we have as we look forward."
Aviation units, he said, are about 83 percent committed on any given day, and no matter if they are active or reserve, units share similar challenges.
"It affects all of those components because over half of our aviation force resides in the Guard and Reserve," he said. "We cannot do the things the Army asks us to do without those other components being an absolute part of that solution."
Biggest challenges for units continue to be time constraints and personnel shortages, said Richardson, adding the chief of staff approved new manning guidance in December that now requires CABs to be filled at 100 percent.
"This will take a little time for the personnel system to catch up so that we can grow," she said.
She also advised units not to limit drills even if there is a perceived shortage in training dollars.
"Individual and crew reps and sets build a foundation for the high-end collective proficiency that's required," she said. "We tell our corps, division and CAB commanders that you train and spend, and let FORSCOM worry about the money."