|By Pat Host
A commission set up by Congress as a checkpoint on the U.S. Army’s path for restructuring its aviation forces has begun a series of road trips to collect input on what the service should look like in the near future.
The National Commission on the Future of the Army met for two days of open and classified hearings in June in Fayetteville, N.C., home of Fort Bragg, whose Army aviation units include the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade.
Created by the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, the panel has two main tasks. Its first is to examine the Army’s structure (and policy assumptions related to its size and force mix), and recommend changes needed to ensure the appropriate balance of capabilities of active and reserve component forces to meet current and anticipated national security and homeland security mission requirements.
Its second task is to study the Army’s plan to transfer Boeing AH-64 Apaches from the Army National Guard to the regular Army, an element of the service’s Aviation Restructuring Initiative.
The authorization act directs the commission to consider several factors in studying both the Army’s structure and the Apache transfer plan. One factor is identifying an Army structure that “achieves cost-efficiency between the regular and reserve components, manages military risk, takes advantage of the strengths and capabilities of each, and considers fully burdened life-cycle costs.” Another is ensuring that the service’s components “have the capacity needed to support current and anticipated homeland defense and disaster assistance missions” in the U.S.
The act, signed into law Dec. 19, 2014, prevents the Army from transferring more than 48 Apaches from the Guard to the regular Army until the commission submits its report. That report is due Feb. 1, 2016.
Army officials maintain that the restructuring initiative, which calls for replacing Guard Apaches with active Army Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks, is proceeding within the regular Army structure. While the commission-related restrictions cap the transfer of Guard aircraft, the regular Army is shifting its armed aerial scout mission from Bell Helicopter OH-58D Kiowa Warriors to Apaches. The Army is in the process of divesting its OH-58Ds.
The service told Rotor & Wing International that its operational strength as of June 1 stood at about 210 Kiowa Warriors. That figure is projected to drop to 60 by the end of this calendar year. In May 2014, OH-58D operational strength stood at about 340 aircraft. The Army plan calls for all Kiowa Warrior units to be inactivated or deactivated by the end of 2017.
The first Apache unit to be converted to the heavy attack reconnaissance role is scheduled to deploy to Kuwait in August. The 3rd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Armored Division will deploy in a manned-unmanned configuration with 12 AAI Corp. RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial systems.
The commission, which met for the first time May 20 in Arlington, Va., consists of eight members. President Obama appointed four members in accordance with the enabling legislation. The chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House of Representatives defense authorization committees each appointed one member.
The members include a former Army aviator. Retired Army Gen. J.D. Thurman served as director of the Army Aviation Task Force for the Office of the Army Deputy Chief of Staff (G-3). He was also commander of the United Nations Command for South Korea.
Retired Army Gen. Carter Ham was named chairman of the commission. Thomas Lamont, former assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, is vice chairman.
The other members are: retired Army Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler; retired Gen. Larry Ellis, president and CEO of VetConnexx; former Defense Department Chief Financial Officer Robert Hale, currently a Booz Allen Hamilton fellow; Kathleen Hicks, former director for policy planning at the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and currently director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and retired Army Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, former chief of the U.S. Army Reserve and a member of the board at VSE Corp.