By Kari Hawkins and Miles Brown (AMC and AMCOM)September 3, 2019
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Army aviation safety and readiness were the focus of a round table discussion Aug. 27 between Redstone Arsenal aviation leaders and members of a national commission charged with reviewing the effects of 17 years of war on the nation's military aviation fleet.
Members of the National Commission on Military Aviation Safety participated in the discussion, which took place at Army Materiel Command headquarters and included a safety briefing by Aviation and Missile Command leaders. The two-day fact-gathering visit also included in-depth focus group discussions with leaders at AMCOM, the Futures Command's Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation Engineering Directorate and the Program Executive Office for Aviation.
"We have a pretty good history of Army aviation right here at Redstone Arsenal," Lt. Gen. Ed Daly, deputy commanding general of Army Materiel Command and senior commander of Redstone Arsenal, told the commission members.
"AMC is focused on logistics and materiel readiness. The uniqueness that you will see here is that AMCOM belongs to the AMC enterprise, but works in partnership with the Futures Command's CCDC and the PEO for Aviation, and that is part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. In terms of setting the context, we have three organizational structures here that support Army aviation. At AMC we can't do it alone. Obviously, we do a piece of it but all Army commands are inextricably linked in support of Army aviation."
During an overview of AMCOM's aviation safety program, the command's Deputy to the Commanding General Bill Marriott emphasized the progress AMCOM has had in increasing readiness rates while also improving safety of the Army aviation fleet.
"Many of us in this room are aviators and safety is paramount," Marriott said. "AMCOM is building partner capacity to ensure safety requirements are met and our commanding general, Maj. Gen. Todd Royar, holds the air worthiness authority for the Army. Our structure is designed to ensure unity of command, safety and readiness.
"We've done an incredible job when it comes to operational readiness and safety. This month, Apache and Black Hawk are above 75% in readiness and Chinook is at 74%. We are very proud of what we have done to get readiness rates where they are, but we are striving for 85%."
Those rates have been met despite Army aviators flying helicopters in two theaters, where the enemy poses a threat every day. Daly said AMCOM has been able to increase readiness while also mitigating risk.
"We are achieving strategic depth because of AMCOM's supply chain management and the great work of the enterprise," Daly said. "It's about being able to not just meet demands of today, but to be able to surge to meet demands if we go to war tonight."
The NCMAS commissioners -- including former Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, commission vice chair Richard Healing, retired Air Force Gen. Ray Johns and retired Air Force Col. and flight surgeon Dr. Peter Mapes -- continued information gathering during focus group sessions Aug. 28 at AMCOM and the PEO-Aviation headquarters at Redstone Arsenal. These sessions allowed them to discuss further what it takes to develop and maintain Army aviation assets and how to ensure Army aviators fly the safest aircraft possible.
"We all have the same goal," said Royar during the AMCOM focus group. "We want the most capable aircraft that we can operate safely."
The commission was created by Congress out of concern for the increase in military aviation accidents between 2013 and 2018. The commission is laser-focused on aviation safety for all the military services, a commitment that extends beyond aviation service members.
"Our responsivity is to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and their families, the families who are partners in this endeavor. We owe the highest duty to those families as well," MCMAS commissioner Geren said. "The leadership here feels that way and the Congress shares that commitment.
"This commission was set-up to save the lives of [military aviators]. Our goal is to produce a product that makes a difference on the ground and in the air and if we can save a single life, this work has been worth the effort. We want to produce a report that provides actionable advice to the services."
Once they complete their review of military aviation safety, the commission will provide the President, Congress and the Department of Defense with a report related to ways to improve all aspects of aviation safety, including operations, increased operational tempo, training, logistics, safety programs and acquisition, among other things.
"I have no doubt this commission will create a report with actionable advice," Geren said.
"The reason that is true is because the mission of the commission has been embraced by the services from top leadership to the junior enlisted members. One of the outstanding parts of this trip (to Redstone Arsenal) was the willingness of everyone involved to be candid and share their experiences. The reason we are conducting these focus groups is to learn from the people who live this day to day, people who share this commitment to safety."
The commission members were focused on gleaning as much "ground truth" as possible during their two days at Redstone. As the Army's Airworthiness Authority, Royar ensured a free discussion at the AMCOM focus group so that all participants could share their experiences in providing support to Army aviation. For his part, Royar was candid.
"I am not sure any one service has all the answers when it comes to aviation safety," he said. "All the services do similar things when it comes to aviation maintenance and safety. But we all have our own [systems and processes]. This may be an area where the commission can help by taking a look at best practices across the branches to improve safety for each service."
The commission will make an assessment of causes contributing to military aviation mishaps and will also assess causes contributing to delays in aviation maintenance and limiting operational availability of aircraft.
The Congressional Mandate that formed the commission is supported by DoD, which has made a commitment to ensure each military service provides information to the commission on various issues that impact safety of aviation operations within their respective commands. Geren said that commitment was evident during the commission's visit at Redstone Arsenal.
"The breadth and depth of topics could not have been better," the commissioner said. "Safety is a team sport, and from the moment we started the discussions, we found [the Redstone team] is focused on the Army's commitment to safety. The commission shares that commitment to those who wear the uniform. It is not only a duty we owe to the service members, but it is a duty we owe to their families."