The UH-72 Lakota, which is based on the Airbus H145/EC145, boasts a top speed of 145 knots and a range of 370 nautical miles. It entered service with the Army National Guard in late 2005. Photo courtesy of Airbus Helicopters
The Army’s first aviation restructuring in a generation shouldn’t affect the civil helicopter market, according to a prominent aerospace analyst.
Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group in Fairfax, Va., told Rotor & Wing recently that although the Army is retiring a number of TH-67 Creek training helicopters that were commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) aircraft when procured, there isn’t enough volume being unloaded to affect the civil market, given the number of single engine, light-tailed helicopters like the TH-67 already in use.
“Even though the TH-67 offloading is really notable for (being) commercial off-the-shelf birds that can go back to being commercial,” Aboulafia said. “The numbers just aren’t that big.”
In response to declining defense budgets in Washington and declining force sizes due to the drawdown from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has decided to try again with its massive and controversial Aviation Restructure Initiative (ARI) after being partially blocked by Congress in fiscal year 2015. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) last April that reducing the Army’s fleet by 798 aircraft would save nearly $12.7 billion over a five-year period. Eighty-six percent of the reductions would come from the active component, compared to 11 percent from the Army National Guard.
As part of ARI, the Army wants to retire its TH-67 trainer helicopters developed by Bell Helicopter Textron in favor of UH-72 Lakotas developed by Airbus Helicopters. Army Director of Aviation G3/5/7 Col. John Lindsay told Rotor & Wing in a recent interview the Lakota is a COTS aircraft used for domestic missions like medical evacuation (medevac), border patrol and permissive, or non-combat, environments.
The Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk has enjoyed wide acceptance as a military platform, as well as a loyal following of government agencies, such as this Mexican police force, which acquired a retired model for law enforcement applications. Photo courtesy of Sikorsky
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Lakotas are only used in permissive environments, he said, because they are not militarized with the additional survivability gear associated with many Army aircraft. Lindsay said militarizing the Lakotas would likely add several hundred pounds to the aircraft and decrease their capabilities due to the extra weight.
The Army, as part of ARI, decided to cancel its Armed Aerial Scout procurement due to cost in favor of using the Army National Guard’s AH-64 Apaches, where they will be teamed with unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for armed reconnaissance, attack or scout missions. The Army will then send 111 UH-60 Black Hawks to the reserve component in exchange for its Apaches and retire its fleet OH-58 Kiowas Warriors. The Army believes the Black Hawks will help the Army National Guard improve its capabilities for support of civil authorities, such as disaster response. Kiowas are also made by Bell Helicopter Textron.
Aboulafia said that typically when the Army unloads excess aircraft like OH-58 Kiowa Warriors or UH-1 Hueys, they end up being purchased by militaries from third-world countries such as the Philippines or Columbia. He said civil customers aren’t attracted to retired military helicopters because of their high cost per flying hour and high cost of maintenance. Aboulafia said in some places, retired military helicopters interfere with the civil market, but they very often don’t.
With a useful load 2,640 lbs and its ability to carry 11 fully armed soldiers, the Black Hawk has been a mainstay of the regular Army, as well as the Army Reserve, National Guard and foreign military forces since 1978. Photo courtesy of Sikorsky
Lindsay said with all the moving parts involved with ARI, the fundamental challenge was the strategy for the OH-58D Kiowa Warriors, first procured in 1991. Lindsay said the Army questioned pouring millions and, in some cases, billions of dollars into a Kiowa Warrior cockpit and sensor upgrade program to fulfill the scout mission. In addition to the those upgrades, Lindsay said the Army would also have had to perform service-life extension programs (SLEP) in the 2020s timeframe on the Kiowa Warriors, and after all that work, he said, the service would have had only a “marginally-improved” capability, and nothing close to what was necessary to fulfill the scout mission.
Aside from not wanting a limited return on investment after pouring millions to billions into the Kiowas, the Army was getting smaller. The land service was developing options to reduce its size from as high as 570,000 soldiers down to 490,000, down to 450,000 and in some instances down to 420,000 if sequestration-related budget caps were not lifted for FY ’16.
The Army in the early 1990s performed an ARI where it standardized assault and attack helicopter companies, provided a separate aviation support battalion in heavy divisions within the division support command, formed a general aviation support battalion and created homogeneous single-aircraft organizations. The Army also fixed aviation sustainment weaknesses and retired old aircraft. A new division organization was added to centralize support to the aviation brigade. The division aviation support battalion was designed with modules to support typical aviation task forces.
The 100th UH-72A Lakota was delivered to the Army in March, 2010, from its plant in Columbus, Miss. During the event, this seldom-seen desert camouflage paint scheme was placed on display. Photo by Ernie Stephens, Editor-at-Large
Congress in the FY ’15 NDAA blocked the Army from transferring Apaches from the Army National Guard to the active Army until Oct. 1, 2015, when FY ’16 begins. The service is allowed in until March 31, 2016, to prepare for the transfer of not more than 48 Apaches and, from Oct. 1, 2015 through March 31, 2016, transfer less than 49 Apaches from the reserve component to the active Army.
Though the Army will continue to pursue ARI in FY ’16, not all lawmakers are on board. SASC member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who is also on the airland subcommittee, has reservations about ARI’s impact on the Army National Guard’s viability as a modern combat force. A Wicker aide told Rotor & Wing in a March 11 email that the senator understands discussions continue between the Army and National Guard Bureau on the final disposition of the Apaches.
The aide said that Wicker believes it would be a good idea for the active Army to wait until a congressionally-directed commission reports on restructure findings in early 2016.
“Senator Wicker believes it would be prudent for the Army to review the findings of the National Commission on the Future of the Army before making decisions that may impact the National Guard’s ability to supplement the Army during future contingencies,” the aide said.
The comments by the Wicker aide echo those of Raymond DuBois, a senior adviser at the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). DuBois believes the ARI debate is about more than just new versus old aircraft, but it’s also about what the active Army wants the Army National Guard to be capable of doing and why. DuBois said that over the last 15 years, the Army National Guard has been used as an operational arm of the total Army, deploying into combat the same way as the active Army.
“This is what is going on now in, let’s call it the ‘Grand Debate,’” DuBois told Rotor & Wing in a recent interview. “The helicopter ARI is a microcosm of that larger debate.”
DuBois said the Army National Guard has changed from being a strategic reserve to an operational reserve because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they don’t want to give up that characterization. He said reasons for this include relevancy and resources.
“You want to be taken seriously,” DuBois said of the Guard’s elevation to operational status. “They don’t want to give up that characterization. It’s become, and understandably so, part of their identity.”
Lindsay said the Army has a lot of work to do to prepare and execute ARI, including preparatory activities that must occur years in advance of the converging, inactivation or activation of a unit. The Army, he said, has individual training requirements and facilities to modify and equipment to be moved from one location to another.
“We’re looking forward because we have to,” Lindsay said in his Pentagon office. “There’s a lot of preparatory activities that must occur and we’re planning for that, eventually.”
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