New aircraft acquisitions and reduced deployment levels should mean more and newer aircraft for Guard units. But they face many challenges, including answering the call in their home states.
The National Guard Assn. of the United States is asking Congress to authorize $309.5 million for six more CH-47F Chinooks and 25 H-60L Black Hawks to support the Guard's requirements under the Army's Aviation Transformation program.
The Black Hawk request includes $145.5 million for 15 UH-60L and $147 million for 10 HH-60L helicopters. The six CH-47Fs would cost $17 million.
As part of its legislative initiative, the association also urged the Congress to support acceleration of the CH-47 line to allow earlier fielding of the CH-47Fs. This will ensure the relevance of Army National Guard aviation on the digitized battlefield and maximize its homeland security capabilities, according to a resolution sponsored by group chapters in 34 U.S. states. According to the group, that acceleration would provide a clear cost benefit based on both inflationary savings of at least 3 percent and savings on material and labor of up to 7 percent from economies of scale. That resolution is one of several to be debated and voted on at the association's 127th annual general conference, to be held Sept. 17-19 at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu.
The $309.5 million would be in the Army's "other procurement" account for the Fiscal 2006 budget. The association also asked that language be written into the authorization to ensure that any add-on would go specifically to the Army National Guard.
Col. Paul Kelly, division chief for aviation and safety in the Department of the Army's National Guard Bureau, agreed with the Guard association's concerns.
"We know we have got to modernize our fleet at a much faster pace than has been done in the past using mainly just the congressional add-ons that we have received," Kelly said.
The bureau is still in the process of meeting requirements laid out by Army leaders to allow the Army National Guard to meet mission requirements, he said, including replacing all the Guard's legacy aircraft. When the RAH-66 Comanche program was cancelled in early 2004, for instance, Army leaders said the service had to ensure that the National Guard and Army Reserve have the capabilities necessary to accomplish their missions in the war on terror through deployments around the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan and to meet their responsibilities for homeland defense as well. That required a substantial investment in the near term in Army Aviation. This is now being achieved through the aviation modernization plan, with the program objectives memorandum calling for "a significant amount of aircraft being procured," Kelly said. "We will have UH-60s that will cascade to our force structures to compensate for the shortages we have today."
He said the Guard would receive 204 of the 322 Light Utility Helicopters that the Army plans to order soon. It would also be receiving a new fixed-wing "future cargo aircraft" to replace its C-23 Sherpas.
The Light Utility Helicopter is intended in part to help phase out the Vietnam War-era OH-58A and C model Kiowas used in the Guard's reconnaissance and interdiction detachment anti-drug programs ("Fighting Homeland Wars," November 2002, page 16). Those predecessors of the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior are to start shifting to security and support battalions next month and to be phased out beginning in Fiscal. They will be replaced by Light Utility Helicopters as those aircraft come on line.
As for the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter that the Army plans to begin acquiring from Bell Helicopter Textron, those new aircraft would be used in part to replace OH-58Ds being flown by the Guard. The 4th Sqdn., 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment of the Tennessee Army National Guard, which says it is the Guard's only enhanced armored cavalry regiment and one of only two in the Army, operates 18 Kiowa Warriors. The 4th of the 278th is being reorganized into the 1st Sqdn., 230th Cavalry, which is to receive 30 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters to replace the OH-58Ds. The 1st of the 230th is to have three air cavalry troops--two in Tennessee and one in Mississippi.
The Guard also is slated to get additional AH-64D Longbow Apaches, Kelly said. A total of 80 AH-64s are being designated for reserve units, of which 48 are slated for the U.S. Army Reserve and 32 for the Guard. "We already have 24, so we will end up with a total of 56," Kelly said. Another 16 AH-64s will go into the overall Army inventory as aircraft available as needed to support counter-terrorism operations and replace front-line aircraft. "But the main effect on the National Guard is that there will be 32 additional Longbows coming into our formations." That move is to be included in the program objectives memorandum, with the additional Longbow Apaches scheduled to reach Guard units in Fiscal 2009 through Fiscal 2012. None of the Apaches slated to be delivered to the National Guard will be Block 3-upgrade helicopters, he said. "They will all be Block 2."
For aircraft lost in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, the National Guard has worked out several solutions to ensure that Army National Guard units have the resources they need for warfighting, Kelly said. "For the near-term solution, we move aircraft around within our own quantities to get them to the units as they need them," he said. For the long term, "we have a very good working relationship with the Department of the Army's Aviation Task Force."
That task force was created about two years ago by Lt. Gen. Richard Cody, who at the time was deputy Army chief of staff for operations and plans. Cody is now the Army's vice chief of staff. The task force is headed by a one-star general; Brig. Gen. Jeff Schloesser recently left the director's post to become director of strategic operational planning directorate at the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center in Washington. He was succeeded as task force director by Brig. Gen. Steve Mundt. The task force is divided in two, with one group on current operations working on what is going on right now and the other working future operations and managing Army aviation transformation and working within the Army campaign plan. The task force's objective is to synchronize actions within the three areas of G-3/5/7 that related to Army aviation. Task force members coordinate replacement aircraft, distribution of aircraft and funding, Kelly said. This includes working out replacement aircraft for National Guard units. "Depending on the particular situation, we work out the best solution for the units in combat," he said.
Heavy maintenance for National Guard aircraft has been done by four Army National Guard Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depots since 1979. These are located in Groton, Conn., Springfield, Mo., Fresno, Calif., and Gulfport, Miss. However, a fifth depot was set up in Kuwait for maintenance on Guard helicopters operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kelly said. "They also do a strong amount of parts repair, so they will have an inventory of parts that can really accelerate the time that a part gets back to the unit in contact," he said. "It has really been a great success story and a very good capability for the Army." The Guard also sends it helicopters back through the Army's Reset Program ("Shape Up, Ship Out," July 2004, page 46), with funding provided by Department of the Army.
National Guard aviation is very much involved in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, with 50 percent of its structure and "about 88 percent of our modernized aircraft" there, Kelly said. "We have 40-45 percent of the overall aviation force structure in the transformation plan."
Now is a key time for Guard aviation as it moves through the process of changing organization to a multi-function aviation brigade structure that is considered much more capable and responsive to military requirements in regions around the world.
"We are right in the throes of that along with the active Army," Kelly said. We continue to do our best to meet our responsibilities and perform our homeland defense. Our ability to react to national disasters and state emergencies will only get better through the modernization program and through the filling of some of our shortages."
He said Guard efforts in that regard are in concert with the Army's "transformation plan and all its tenets and principles and objectives."
National Guard involvement in Iraq is increasing as more brigades are sent in and overlap redeployment of in-country units being rotated back to the United States. By the end of this year there should be a peak number of nine brigades in country as part of a plan to reduce the pressure on the active Army components. However, the Army's chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, has told Congress that the number of Guard brigades should drop to as few as two next year.
Unfortunately, this will be a bit late for many state governors who are concerned that their Guard helicopters are out of the country during prime fire season. The lack of helicopters to support firefighting and other emergency operations, along with the "wear and tear" on the helicopters coming back from war zones, will be major topics of discussion at the meeting in Honolulu. Recommendations of the Base Realignment and Closure commission will also be an issue there, although that involves fixed-wing units more than rotary-wing ones.