AUSA Army Aviation Symposium and Exposition, Arlington, Va. — Maj. Gen. Kevin Mangum, commanding general of U.S. Army Aviation, revealed on Tuesday the full extent of his command’s plans to hit the budget crisis head-on. Speaking on the first day of the Army Aviation Symposium in Washington, D.C., he said that Army Aviation would retire its fleet of Bell OH-58 reconnaissance helicopters. The role would be handed to the Army’s Apache AH-64E attack helicopters supported by the rapidly expanding Shadow and Gray Eagle unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in a role that has seen rapid annual growth – Manned Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T).
Mangum said that the idea of prolonging the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior by putting “new shoes on an old horse for $10 billion” was rejected by the Army Aviation committee who collectively made the decision.
First flight of the OH-58F on April 30, 2013. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army
All Apache helicopters would be taken out of the reserve component, being replaced by Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks. Both Boeing Apache AH-64E and Black Hawk UH-60M procurement plans would be slowed and extended by 10 years so that the final aircraft in the process would not be fielded until the early 2030s.
The troubled Armed Aerial Scout program, which the Army has calculated would cost $16 billion, has been shelved indefinitely.
Planning to meet the aviation needs of an Army sized at the new level of 490,000 soldiers would require 15 Combat Aviation Brigades (CABs), said Mangum, a figure that had been derived from the Army’s own studies.
However, while the 13th Combat Aviation Brigade was still in the process of being formed, there would be no further increase. In fact, when a worst-case scenario was contemplated where government cut the standing Army even further by significant numbers, Mangum said that that only 10 CABs may be required.
“I don’t like lean, but there ain’t going to be no fat,” remarked Mangum.
Training has already suffered from budget cuts. “Since last year $250 million has been cut from the flying hour program,” said Mangum. While the plan during his predecessor’s time had been to increase the number of students passing through the Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., to around 1,500 per annum, a peak had been reached last year at 1,200. This year the number was expected to fall to just below 900 students.
Again, in a worst-case scenario, Mangum said that cuts could take place over a five-year window, adding that Army Aviation command “had planned for off-ramps” in case we don’t have to face worst case.
“We must balance force structure, modernization and training to mitigate the impact of the Budget Control Act on Army Aviation,” he asserted. Better to self-inflict the pain than have the force cut “salami” style where every aspect suffered. However, the determination to stand down the OH-58 and not pursue the AAS was clearly central.
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