On April 8, Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, seemed to have conceded to the Senate Armed Services Committee what was always going to be an unwinnable fight against the sequestration-caused reshaping of U.S. Army Aviation; that the Guard could not keep its Boeing Apaches. The Guard will hand over its 192 AH-64 Apaches to the regular force while gaining 111 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks in return – a combination of modernized UH-60Ls and new UH-60Ms. But at the same meeting, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno presented figures derived from the Aviation Restructure Initiative (ARI) that showed a saving of around $12 billion through fiscal year 2017. With the Army downsizing in numbers and with a new expeditionary force structure in mind, the cuts had to be made. Let’s not forget the regular Army Aviation force is taking hits too, losing three combat aviation brigades.
Pre-sequestration the Army’s research had indicated a minimum need for 15 CABs – this has now been hacked back to only 10. Gen. Odierno reminded everyone that between FY12 and FY21 the Department of Defense (DoD) was scheduled to take $900 billion in budget reductions, of which the Army’s share was $265 billion. More specifically, under the ARI the active component of Army would absorb 86 percent of the total reductions (687 of 798) with only 14 percent (111 of 798) from the Guard and Reserve components. “The active Army’s overall helicopter fleet will decline by about 23 percent, and the Army National Guard’s fleet of helicopters will decline by approximately 8 percent,” he said. The stand of the Guard certainly attracted support of Congressman Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who introduced a bill to set up a National Commission to investigate the ARI. There was also logic to the argument that it should keep its attack helicopter capability and skills. Hadn’t they just proved their worth in over a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan? With reserves in the more modern armies around the world now being called upon for increased commitment but without the financial allocations usually attributed to regular forces, the possibility that reserves could be gradually – well, quickly if huge cuts continue to be made – be turned into “paper tigers” has to be avoided at all costs.
The Guard’s absence of a rotary attack capability will have a ripple effect across the whole Army, not just the reserve component. Training must be put in place to ensure that the reserve component does not lose sight of the developing operational capability of the Apache force (particularly manned-unmanned teaming, or MUM-T). However, the reduction in monthly flying hours that will impact Army Aviation aircrews once the withdrawal from Afghanistan is complete, is going to narrow training availability as well as currency skills. They will now need to be available to train with reserve forces as well as the regular force elements. Not everything can be achieved through synthetic simulation.
But the greater danger to all reserve forces is that they will be asked to fulfill the same role as that of their regular colleagues, but without the same financial commitment allocated to regular active soldiers. As an example, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) is currently engaged in restructuring the military into Army 2020. This will entail the building up of the Volunteer Force from its current level of 19,000 to an anticipated strength of 30,000 soldiers. While this is happening, the regular Army will reduce in size to 82,000. The vision is that: “The changing nature of the Reserves presents an opportunity for the Army to be integrated by design, with the Reserve used routinely, not just in extreme circumstances.” So in reality to achieve this they should be as well trained in virtually all aspects of soldiering as the regular force. Herein rests the comprehensive challenge: to deliver an equal effect across two different levels of force structure – while the government’s treasury benefits from the money saved. Unless specific reserves are trained for specific tasks and missions, maintaining their ability to deliver an equal capability across all scenarios would seem to be an unrealistic and potentially dangerous ambition.
Related: Military News