FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The unveiling of the Army's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap and the design of Full-Spectrum Combat Aviation Brigades were the hot topics at the annual Army Aviation Association of America convention in Fort Worth, Texas, April 15-17.
Maj. Gen. James O. Barclay III, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, addressed both topics during his opening remarks and introduced the keynote speaker, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli.
Barclay gave an update on Aviation Study II, which reviewed the findings of a previous Aviation study and helps chart the course for the future of the Aviation Branch.
One of the significant findings of the study is the Full-Spectrum Combat Aviation Brigade Design that will standardize the make-up of CABs over the next three to five years.
The study recommended a modular design that delivers the maximum Aviation capability in the most timely and flexible manner. The design includes unmanned aircraft systems, Barclay said.
He added the proposed courses of action resulting from the study are due to the Office of the Secretary of Defense this month.
Army Aviation is moving rapidly and continuing to meet its challenges, and Barclay encouraged convention attendees to be proud of the fact that the Army supports the Army Aviation community.
"This team we've put together, this (Aviation) enterprise ... we wouldn't be able to accomplish these things if we didn't do it with a team approach, to make things happen," he said.
Chiarelli took the stage to unveil the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap - the "game changer" document that serves as the way ahead for Army UAS for the next 25 years.
"We're integrating UAS into all our formations downrange ... but I think the biggest thing to come out of this discussion is an opportunity to sit back and think about this idea of the Full-Spectrum Combat Aviation Brigade - the ability to go ahead and integrate unmanned platforms along with manned platforms. That's the direction the Army's going," Chiarelli said.
He noted the nature of the roadmap is not budgetary or programmatic. Rather, it is a conceptual or living document that captures where the Army is with UAS and how the systems will fit into formations in the future.
Chiarelli called the roadmap "truly a remarkable document" that required a "Herculean effort" by many of the people who listened to him speak in the convention's ballroom.
"There have been many technologies introduced during these 8 1/2 years of war. However, I don't think any has made a greater impact than UAS. It's always important when you have a game changer like this that you step back, take some time to think about it and lay out your future. That's what we've tried to do in this very first UAS Roadmap," he said.
Maj. Gen. Perry L. Wiggins, deputy commanding general, 5th U.S. Army North, referred to the status of Army Aviation today as "exciting times," a time when "everybody ... wants Aviation," during a warfighting forum.
The road ahead for Army Aviation has its challenges, to include compressed dwell periods in the Army Force Generation cycle, and deployment challenges in maintenance and fighter management, he said.
One of the challenges the Army will face in Afghanistan in the future is air-ground integration, which involves unmanned aircraft systems, said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, director, Army Aviation G3/5/7.
"It's 1914, and we're just discovering fixed-wing aircraft," he said, referring to where the Army currently is with integrating UAS. "We're going to stop talking and start doing something at the squadron level."
Col. Clayton M. Hutmacher, commander of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment said he expects continued, persistent presence in theater in the future, as well as modernization and growth. This will include the MH-60M Black Hawks that will begin to be fielded in 2012. The new aircraft's bigger engines with more shaft-horsepower are "relevant to the fight in Afghanistan," Hutmacher said during a Combat Aviation Brigade commander panel.
Col. Ronald F. Lewis, commander, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade talked about protecting the population and protecting the border as part of Full-Spectrum Combat Aviation operations in Afghanistan in 2009.
Lewis described difficult decisions that have to be made in the warfight, to include the timing of bringing in medical evacuation, whether or not to fire in situations and finding the right places to land.
"We really have got to have people who can fly ... in that environment," Lewis said.
Maj. Gen. James R. Myles, commanding general, Aviation and Missile Command, spoke about warfighter solutions present and future, provided a theater update and other topics, including the priorities for the Aviation Enterprise: highlighting the synergy created by forging relationships and teamwork, the ARFORGEN cycle and thinking ahead to what the Army needs in the future.
Schloesser added it will require industry and Soldiers to determine the way ahead, and that capabilities must be fielded rapidly.