FORT RUCKER, Ala. — The U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence (USAACE) hosted its annual Aviation Industry Days event to provide industry representatives a chance to hear from aviation enterprise leaders and foster innovative idea sharing July 20-22.
With social distancing and other COVID-19 mitigation measures in place, this year’s event brought in more than 400 attendees and over 50 vendor exhibits at The Landing, and included a two-day lineup of guest speakers featuring Army aviation enterprise leaders at the Post Theater.
Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, USAACE and Fort Rucker commanding general, welcomed participants and provided an aviation branch update.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal bringing in our industry partners with our government partners again, to help communicate our thinking about the future and the assistance and partnership we need as a team moving forward as we modernize the Army and Army aviation into the future. This is an important couple of days here,” Francis said.
“We have not been static during COVID. We are moving out on all fronts across the board,” he said.
Francis spoke about preparing Army aviation to transition from 20 years of counterinsurgency operations to large scale combat operations of the future, as well as progress that has been made not only with materiel solutions, but also across areas like doctrine, training, facilities and policy, and leader development.
“The leaders that we are developing today are the ones that are going to lead us into the future, and we can’t train the same way we’ve done for the last twenty years,” he said.
“We know that we’re going to be operating in very different environments with different leadership attributes that are going to be required, and different technical competencies. As we train those leaders, we’re changing that in anticipation of the receipt of Future Vertical Lift and all of its capabilities so that we’re prepared to employ those things in a higher threat environment,” Francis explained.
Francis said Army aviation will adapt to new constraints in the future operating environment.
“Gone are the days when we’re going to have a combat aviation brigade sitting on an airfield, because the signature is simply too large,” he said.
Army aviation will be required to operate from areas of relative sanctuary in dispersed locations, and converge effects at the time and place of their choosing to present multiple dilemmas to adversaries.
Army aviation must be able to sustain and maintain aircraft at remote locations in the future.
“We won’t be able to do the hub and spoke thing that we’ve been doing for the last 20 years, where we had an aircraft come into a phase window, we fly it back to a hub, do the phase and send it back out. We will not have that ability. The maintenance free operating periods that we have between major maintenance events is going to be absolutely critical to our success in the future,” he said.
Francis also said Fort Rucker is producing record numbers of aviators again, which is critical for the future of the branch and the Army.
Lt. Gen. Thomas Todd, deputy commanding general, Acquisition and Systems Management at Army Futures Command, encouraged attendees to think about how Army aviation connects into the bigger picture of the Army’s six modernization priorities.
“The question would be, how are you integrating aviation with ground? How are you integrating it in those long range fires, with the network, with air and missile defense, and the Soldier as a system in and of itself?” he said.
He explained the need for the joint and multinational force in the future to rapidly converge effects across all domains. The Army’s Project Convergence looks to answer this, with a focus on emerging technologies in a contested future environment.
“Don’t think (of) network always connected, always on, always transmitting, always receiving. Absolutely not, it’s very much the opposite,” he said.
Todd also emphasized the importance of getting technology in the hands of Soldiers in keeping with the rate of innovation.
The Army must raise the next generation of leaders that can expect to be modernized while they’re in command, he said.
Maj. Gen. Walter T. Rugen, director of Army Futures Command’s Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team, in his remarks spotlighted the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) ecosystem in large scale combat operations, with an emphasis on simulations and modeling in a recent exercise.
The Experimental Demonstration Gateway Exercise (Edge 21), conducted at Dugway Proving Ground in May, provided a Soldier touchpoint to test the FVL ecosystem and get emerging technologies in the hands of Soldiers to show how the Army and Joint force will fight in the Indo-Pacific theater in the future.
Rugen commended efforts across the aviation enterprise, and lauded the requirements and concepts from Fort Rucker’s experts that were proven in the model, he said.
“When you hear the (Army Chief of Staff) talk about speed, range, transformational and decision dominance, that’s really truly what we demonstrated out at Edge 21, in the physical and digital space, and I would also argue in the electromagnetic space to achieve decision dominance,” he said.
Guest speakers for the event also included Brig. Gen. Robert Barrie, program executive officer for Army aviation, and Brig. Gen. Clair Gill, director of Army aviation at the Army Pentagon, as well as aviation sustainment, survivability systems, and capability development experts, including Army capability managers teamed with program managers for updates on attack and lift platforms and Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
Throughout the event, participants had opportunities to peruse industry booths and displays, and ask questions and pitch ideas to leaders and subject matter experts.
Col. Joshua Higgins, director of Army Future Command’s Capability Development and Integration Directorate, based at Fort Rucker, commended the team effort across the aviation enterprise, Fort Rucker, and the Wiregrass community that made the event possible.
“I just appreciate the great support for us to be able to do something like this safely. I think everyone will walk out of here with a far better understanding of the aviation modernization efforts, and the priorities of the branch, and understand better what we’ve done over the last 18 months during COVID,” Higgins said.
A critical part of that team is the industry partnerships that help solve the technology challenges aviation faces, today and into the future.
“These are our industry partners--we need them, and they need us,” Higgins said. “And at the end of the day, it’s all about providing the best capability to the Soldiers that we support, and defending our nation.”