Armed Aerial Scout: Will they or won’t they? “What do we do with the Scout? Do we buy new or do we do a SLEP [service life extension program with the Kiowa Warrior]?” asked Maj. Gen. William “Tim” Crosby, PEO Army Aviation, during his address at the annual Quad-A convention, held this year in Fort Worth, Texas.
Addressing industry delegates in the audience, he continued: “I know you are poised and ready to execute [new helicopter deliveries] and you say ‘Last year you said you were going to do this’… yes, but the truth changed!” Crosby was referring, of course, to the impact of U.S. government’s sequestration or spending cuts in the defense budget, something his audience was only too aware of given the lack of military participants and delegates throughout the event.
“Look at what we are now facing,” he said. “We are taking a step back and saying let’s not make a rush to failure,” Crosby continued (where memories of RAH-66 Comanche and Bell ARH-70A still reside). “Let’s think about what is affordable across the portfolio and it is critical that we do that now. If we don’t, then you could use some of your precious R&D on something we might not be able to pursue.”
The AAS is needed, of that there is no doubt in the minds of the Army Aviation commanders who have said as much time and again. In fact the relatively late public unveiling on the exhibition floor of a contender from one of the bidders was the AgustaWestland AW169 AAS. This is a military version of the civil AW169 that has already flown, with certification expected during 2014. AgustaWestland states that more than 70 civil orders have been received. However, this would be a brand new type addition to the U.S. Army’s fleet if selected. But the decision was no clearer, continued Crosby, even after the technology demonstrations of last year that most of the bidders participated in. “We are going to have to adjust—and slow a few things down,” he said. There was short-term way ahead, Crosby added: “There are five or six programs that need to be put into the affordability category to keep the portfolio balanced… to limit the impact it has on the fleet.”
But for those who can afford to take the longer-term view, it is the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR TD) that has really captured the undercurrent of the rotorcraft manufacturers. The plan is for this to be the first stage of new and better designs that will eventually lead to the whole Future Vertical Lift (FVL) proposal, which will encompass light, medium, heavy and ultra types of helicopter.
“We talk about Future Vertical Lift and the systems that we need to invest in now,” said Crosby. According to him the question Maj. Gen. James Barclay III, Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff, G3/5/7, was looking at in detail was when a particular system was going to be needed and when the technology was going to be available to match the need. “Following that we need to look at the sustainment plan to keep our existing systems until they arrive,” he added, and referenced further investment in solutions to cope with degraded visual environments (brownouts) and the ever increasing manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T).
There were potential further complications ahead he noted, particularly discussions “about putting a maneuver battalion back into every brigade—well that increases the scope of what the Combat Aviation Brigade has to do, so we have to look at the structure of that too.”
Crosby admitted that while the AAS is the most pressing issue, the future of medium lift is the bigger issue over the long term: “We have made a conscious decision to look at the medium lift. The AAS is most pressing but 75 percent of the fleet is in the attack/utility sector, so if you are looking for a return on investment, then you go after that and you need an alternative path for the Scout.”
Elsewhere at the show the impact of the U.S. Department of Defense’s fiscal year 2014 proposal announced on April 10 saw EADS North America’s Eurocopter subsidiary lose out with only 10 of the remaining 41 UH-72A Lakota helicopters slated for purchase. The organization’s Chairman and CEO Sean O’Keefe expressed his regret that “an extremely successful program like the Lakota—with its demonstrated low cost and unbroken record of on-time and on-cost deliveries” was a casualty. With the majority of the 345 U.S. Army utility aircraft already delivered this was perhaps an easier cut for the DoD to make in the circumstances.
Boeing has been earmarked for 42 remanufactured Apache AH-64E attack helicopters as well as 22 remanufactured CH-47s and six new builds, all into the CH-47F model.
The following is an extract from FY14 Budget Overview, described as continuing to invest in the modernization of manned and unmanned aircraft, with aviation enablers, but at a slower pace:
• OH-58 Kiowa Warrior ($184M); upgrades supporting conversion from “D” to “F” model
• CH-47F Chinook helicopters ($1,050M); 6 new and 22 remanufactured aircraft
• UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters ($1,237M); 65 new aircraft—41 UH-60M (Utility) and 24 HH-60M (Medical) to modernize the fleet
• AH-64 Apache helicopters ($813M); 42 remanufactured Block III aircraft
• MQ-1 Gray Eagle Extended Range Multi-Purpose ($518M); 15 aircraft, supporting ground control stations and satellite communication terminals
• UH-72A Lakota Light Utility helicopters ($96M); all 10 aircraft are for the Army National Guard.
In a new move Gen. Barclay took to the public floor to outline some general thoughts and answer questions from exhibition attendees. He said that sequestration was resulting in more projects being pushed forward to the FY14-15 timeframe, but stated that in general, Army Aviation was better integrated than it had been as a result of great investment over the past decade.
He added that as the deployment to Afghanistan was wound down, he believed that the leaning on contractor support would lessen and that skills would be brought back into the “green” Army. The challenge there would be retaining the right mix and what could be afforded, but he added “we have got to get soldiers back to doing that workload” (Editor’s Note: Contractors are valued for their high skill set in dedicated areas and this might be difficult to emulate and to ensure highly skilled personnel are retained by the Army).
When asked about the continuing role of the National Guard and the Reserve, he said it was critical. “Look at the gains we have made over the last 10 years—we cannot go back on the investment we have made in the Guard.”
The expected lack of senior U.S. Army personnel meant that the organizers looked for alternative presentations during the forum sessions. Air Commodore William Westerbeek, commander of the Defence Helicopter Command for the Royal Netherlands Air Force, talked the Netherlands being “one of the bigger, smaller countries.” He expects that the RNLAF future helicopter force that will comprise 29 Apache Block II helicopters, 17 Chinook D/Fs and 20 NH-90 TTLs, with the existing Cougar (eight), AB 412 (three) and Alouette III (four) all being phased out by 2017. “What is important is the effect you want to achieve… how much bang for the buck we can get.” He said that the RNLAF had received good value out of basing eight Apaches and three Chinooks at Fort Hood for training and familiarization with the U.S. Army. But he too admitted that the force “did not have the money to fly all the hours they wanted.” Options, he said, included looking at neighboring countries such as Germany and Belgium to see what ‘joint’ cooperation in capability might be achieved in budget-hit times.
Regarding the use of synthetic simulators for training, he said that reducing flight hours was not a problem: “I am convinced that the product at the end will be the same, if not better.”
MG Olivier Gourlez de la Motte, CMDT with the French Army, said that French forces traditionally deploy overseas within a framed agreement with NATO, adding that the current preference is to deploy “in cooperation with other nations.” He mentioned the forces commonality in aircraft with Germany and Spain regarding the Tiger attack helicopter and NH90 support helicopter.
Wing Commander Col. Kevin Whale, Tactical Aviation, 1 Wing, Canadian Forces, said that Canadian forces had been deployed internationally for 93 percent of the last 24 years. His force would comprise 67 CH146 Griffon helicopters as well as 15 newer CH-47Fs. He added that the force was based on meeting four requirements: it had to be joint, offer inter-agency specialization and have international capability, all while retaining the general trust of the public at home.