It is customary at every AUSA, the U.S. Army’s annual convention staged in Washington, DC during October, for the leaders of Army Aviation (dubbed ‘The Four Horsemen’) to openly discuss ‘on the record’ a wide range of subjects of current interest. Those present this year were: BG Anthony G. Crutchfield, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general; MG James Rogers, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command commanding general; BG William T. Crosby, program executive officer, U.S. Army Aviation; and Col. William Morris, director of Army Aviation, Pentagon.
One of the first subjects raised was the perceived requirement in the Army for a cargo UAS helicopter. BG Crutchfield stated that the primary task was to lay out the gaps in capability within Army aviation and to identify what was needed. Crosby added that there is “much potential that we see in UAS” but that “there are zealots who think it is time to pull out of manned aviation—we are not there! What we are doing is going ahead with a comprehensive look and we have focused on RSTA [reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition] to date. We are doing manned and unmanned teaming and breaking a lot of ground.” He added that his technology team is monitoring what the U.S. Marine Corps was doing.
Regarding the future for the Joint Multi Role (JMR) helicopter, Crosby hinted that all variants were being looked at and that his team was “looking at our S&T tax dollars to facilitate the development of critical enablers.” He said that the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) was applicable both to today’s Apaches and Black Hawks and to the future JMR. “We see that as a critical enabler... but which variant do we go after first—those are the things we have to wrestle with at the moment.”
The fact that Army Aviation was stretched also came up for debate. Crutchfield confirmed that the Combat Aviation Brigades were currently in a one year BOG (boots on the ground): dwell time cycle, but there was little slack down the line. “Right now we are maintaining a balance between five-and-a-half Combat Aviation Brigades deployed at any time. We still have the second CAB in Korea, we still have a presence in SOUTHCOM [U.S. Southern Command] as well as in Europe, and so if something happened we could muster a force together. But if we needed six or seven CABs at a steady state then we would have to look to OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] as we did last year and they directed that a 13th active component CAB was to be resourced into the force. That will help us get into reasonable dwell rates for our soldiers so that we can respond to any contingencies.”
There is currently much debate about optionally manned helicopters. Crosby said that the Army’s current vehicles were either manned or unmanned. But “a critical enabler would be to digitize the flight controls. We have done some digital automatic flight control systems for the Black Hawk and Chinook, which gives you an enhanced capability,” but that there was nothing as fully digitised as had been planned for the Comanche. As he understood it, “the idea is that the specifics of a mission and the risks might be so high that you want to fly as an optionally manned/unmanned configuration. That is something that we know is technologically feasible and there are systems out there that are doing it today. For us to go back and retrofit into the existing platforms that we have—Apache, Black Hawk and Chinook—[would mean] we would need to digitize those flight controls to get that kind of responsiveness. We have no resources to do that as of today.”
Crosby did say that he saw the “potential value” of such a system but asked whether it would be “more important than the current manned/unmanned that we are doing,” adding: “We have to keep in mind that whatever capability we are thinking of, the Army has to be able to afford.”
Because of the small BOG to dwell ratio, there have been concerns about the amount of time available to CABs to train before beginning their next operational deployment. Crutchfield was keen to ensure that everyone understood that the country had “the best trained aviation personnel that we have ever had. We have the most combat seasoned aviators ever.” He confirmed that there were issues in trying to push all of the training through fast enough but that “we are meeting those challenges like never before, through mobile training teams from Fort Rucker and other places. They go to the posts, camps and stations to help train and it is working out. It is not easy and it is expensive but it’s working.”
For a more complete version of the ‘Four Horsemen’ discussion at AUSA, look for the next issue of the Rotor & Wing Military Insider newsletter or subscribe for your free copy today.