Anticipated reductions in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq in 2009 will not ease the demand for U.S. Army aviation there, the commanding general of the Army Aviation Warfighting Center at Fort Rucker, Ala. told the Association of the United States Army’s (AUSA) annual aviation symposium and exposition January 7-9. Maj. Gen. James O. Barclay III said in a speech to the gathering that a troop drawdown in Iraq and an expected troop buildup in Afghanistan will only increase the strain on his service’s aviation fleet. "We’re not seeing any drawdowns, we’re only seeing plus-ups," Barclay said.
"As you have less ground forces to cover the same terrain, the requirement for Army aviation goes up to move those fewer ground forces across the battle space," Barclay said of Iraq. As for Afghanistan, he noted, the Pentagon announced in December that the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division will become the second Army Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) to deploy there this spring. The announcement "turned the whole model upside down for us" in Army deployment planning, he said.
With four CABs in Iraq, Barclay said, a third of the Army’s 12 active duty and six reserve CABs will be at war in 2009 at any given time. On average, that leaves returning aviation brigades little time to reset — disassemble the dynamic components of their helicopters, repair and replace parts, and retrain before redeploying. "You’re meeting yourself coming and going," Barclay said.
The AUSA symposium, held in the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va., featured product displays by 25 vendors. A recurring theme in a day-and-a-half of panel discussions was uncertainty about what aircraft the Army will need and build in the years after its existing helicopters and airplanes have exceeded their useful service lives. Retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, president of AUSA, told the more than 300 attendees, including about 100 military officers and dozens of industry representatives, that the major issue is "quo vadis: Where is Army aviation going in the future?" Sullivan, who retired in 1995 as chief of staff of the Army, urged younger officers to keep in mind that "twenty-five years is not very long. Twenty-five years ago we had many of the frames that are in service today."
Brig. Gen. William T. Crosby, program executive officer for aviation at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., struck a similar note. After nearly eight years of war, the Army helicopter fleet has logged nearly 2.8 million flight hours, with many aircraft flying roughly four to six times as many hours a month as in peacetime. "If you’re burning up your fleet at four to five times the rate, you’d better have a plan to replace them four to five times faster," Crosby said.
Col. Joseph B. Jellison, director of the Concept Requirements Directorate at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, said those pondering what aircraft the Army will need in 2025 and beyond "are free-thinking and we are very welcome to anything industry brings to us."