By Kari Hawkins, USAG Redstone June 29, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Move over, helicopters. Fixed wing aircraft are getting a higher aviation profile at Redstone Arsenal.
The Program Executive Office for Aviation will soon stand up a Fixed Wing Project Office, taking the Army’s fleet of about 350 fixed wing aircraft out from under the program executive office’s Aviation Systems Project Office, and requiring its management to report directly to aviation program executive officer Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby.
The move is being made to ensure safety and airworthiness, gain efficiencies, and provide better sustainment, oversight and life cycle management. The variety of aircraft and the increased demand for fixed wing aircraft capabilities has led to the need for a higher profile for the Army’s fixed wing fleet.
“There’s a whole lot of fixed wing flying out there, doing due diligence,” Crosby told a standing-room-only crowd at the Army Aviation Association of America’s first Fixed Wing Professional Forum at the Embassy Suites on June 21.
“But who’s out there making sure of airworthiness? We’re not just picking up an airplane (with the new Fixed Wing Project Office). We’re picking up another mission. We owe our Soldiers, we owe it to those flying in the front and the back, that safety and airworthiness oversight. That’s the thrust behind all of this.”
As the Army transforms and reduces budgets, program portfolios are being realigned in ways that make management sense.
“This was the right thing to do as we manage and align portfolios. We are aligning all things that fly under Army aviation,” Crosby said.
The program executive office for Aviation now includes seven project offices " Apache, Armed Scout Helicopters, Cargo Helicopters, Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft, Utility Helicopters, Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Aviation Systems. It is an $8.2 billion a year portfolio which reaches to about $14 billion when foreign military sales are included in the numbers. There are 2,250 employees in the aviation program executive office work force.
The program executive office’s Aviation Systems Project Office leads five product offices, including the fixed wing product office. Under the new alignment, the fixed wing product office will be brought out from under Aviation Systems and become a project office under the command of Lt. Col. Brian Tachias, who will be promoted to colonel as part of his new assignment.
Currently, fixed wing has an annual budget of $400 million. Twenty-six percent of its 350 aircraft are deployed. The fixed wing fleet, which includes small and medium-sized twin-engine propeller planes as well as Citation and Gulfstream jets, has three major functions: intelligence operations, logistical support and transportation of high priority personnel. Fixed wing have flown 256,881 flight hours in support of war efforts.
“These things are critical to getting our key people in the right place at the right time,” Crosby said.
The mission of the Fixed Wing Product Office has been to manage the acquisition, fielding, sustainment and retirement of fixed wing platforms, and to perform equipment modernization through centralized life-cycle management. The mission will be enhanced and will be further consolidated to include all aspects of fixed wing management when it becomes a project office.
Meetings such as the fixed wing forum and the move to establish the new project office will create a unified voice for the Army’s fixed wing fleet, which is especially important during a time of reduced budgets and new Army strategies, said Col. Anthony Potts, project manager for the Aviation Systems Project Office.
“We’ve been small communities throughout (the history of Army fixed wing). We’ve never come together truly as a fixed wing community of excellence. This forum starts us on that particular journey … We have to speak with one voice as we go forward,” Potts said.
Although the Air Force carries the Department of Defense’s primary aircraft-related missions, it is the Army’s fixed wing aviators who know how to fly fixed wing as assets in support of ground troops, Potts said.
“The operational, tactical fight belongs to us. That’s our domain. That’s what we do best,” he said of fixed wing aviators.
Potts doesn’t agree when senior Army leaders state that fixed wing aircraft is not an Army core competency.
“We are going to come out. We are going to change that,” he said.
With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the contributions of fixed wing in the areas of intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition missions have become game changers on the battlefield.
“You can’t go anyplace (in Iraq and Afghanistan) where you don’t see a fixed wing aircraft in the air,” said retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Mundt, who opened the fixed wing forum with welcoming comments.
“(The Army) has been forced to keep the Sherpa (C-23 aircraft) in service because it’s doing its job. It’s the Huey of fixed wing. Fixed wing is an aircraft community that’s engaged everywhere we go.”
Fixed wing represents the beginning of Army aviation, with World War I being the first time aircraft were used for reconnaissance. The missions of Cub and Piper Cub aircraft during World War II set the standards for “the capability to resupply, find the enemy and get information back” to ground troops, Mundt said. “There are amazing stories about courage and the things that these Cub aviators went through. Fixed wing aircraft have been critical to our success.”
While several Army branches " including infantry and artillery " have fought to claim fixed wing aircraft, “at the end of the day we emerged as a branch and it’s a powerful branch because of the history of fixed wing,” Mundt said.
During the opening session of the forum, Crosby and Mundt presented the Fixed Wing Unit of the Year award to Task Force ODIN (Observe, Detect, Identify, Neutralize)-Afghanistan. The unit’s 700 Soldiers and contractors use a fleet of specialized mission aircraft to fly more than 35 manned and unmanned missions a day from five separate airbases located in three regional commands. The unit provides aerial reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition intelligence to ground commanders.