The National Commission on the Future of the Army proposed an aviation restructure solution that keeps AH-64 Apaches in the U.S. Army National Guard, but it would cost an extra $165 million per year, in addition to a $420 million upfront cost.
The commission, in its report released Thursday, offered its own solution, a mix of the Army’s Aviation Restructure Initiative (ARI) as proposed in its fiscal year 2016 budget request, and the Army National Guard’s solution, formed in response. The commission also considered the Army’s ARI, which is currently being implemented, and the Army National Guard’s alternative proposal in response.
The commission’s solution maintains 24 manned AH-64 Apache battalions, of which 20 would be in the active Army (same as under ARI), and four would be in the Army National Guard (compared to zero under ARI). All the active Army battalions would be equipped with 24 aircraft.
The four Army National Guard battalions would be equipped with 18 aircraft and, thus, would have to cross-level helicopters before deploying. Cross-leveling is where a battalion called to active duty would acquire aircraft from an Army National Guard battalion. The commission said this strategy is commonly employed today.
To hold down costs, the commission’s solution assumes that only two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter battalions are added to the Army National Guard (compared to four under ARI). This approach, which is also used by the Army National Guard’s preferred solution, would result in a reduction in operational Black Hawk aircraft by about three percent.
Operating costs, under the commission’s solution, would increase by a net of about $165 million per year due to the added costs of four Army National Guard Apache battalions, including costs to deploy them on a regular basis, and costs to forward station a combat aviation brigade in South Korea. These additional operating costs are partially offset by savings from foregoing the operation of two Army National Guard Black Hawk battalions.
The commission’s solution would result in one-time costs of about $420 million to remanufacture 24 Apache helicopters from D models to E models. These remanufactures would likely occur at some time beyond the next five years. The commission said the E model provides greater capability to work with unmanned reconnaissance assets and has a new drive train and rotors for improved aircraft performance. This, the commission said, would significantly enhance safety and combat performance.
The commission proposed an “illustrative” approach to offsetting the added costs of its solution from within aviation funds. A portion of the added costs could be offset by maintaining two fewer Black Hawk battalions in the Army National Guard. Another offset could be savings from personnel cuts designed to leave Army National Guard personnel at the level of 335,000 planned in President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2016 budget request.
The remaining offsets, the commission proposed, could be achieved through a modest slowdown in the Black Hawk procurement program. The commission’s solution makes no change in the L-to-V conversion program for Black Hawks, a program that produces a fully digitized Black Hawk. To offset its proposed additional costs, the commission said the Army would probably have to buy five to 10 fewer new Black Hawks per year.
The commission said reductions in buys of Black Hawks would need to continue beyond the next five years in order to offset operating costs and provide funds needed to remanufacture the 24 Apaches. The commission believes the Army should be able to adjust its annual Black Hawk buys so as to not undermine its multiyear contract.
The commission believes its solution offers the Army significant advantages. It says its solution provides greater wartime capacity than ARI or the Army National Guard alternative. Peacetime operating tempo would also improve compared to ARI and the Army National Guard alternative. Wartime surge capacity, measured by trained pilots in units, would be higher than under ARI. The commission believes its solution would also improve aviation capabilities in South Korea.
The commission also believes the Army needs additional funding overall. The commission believes significant threats to national security may eventually lead to defense funding that substantially exceeds the $147 billion the Army requested for FY 2016. The recommendation regarding Apache transfers is intended to be generally consistent with the funding proposed in the budget request. The commission also identified other high-priority aviation initiatives that would require significant funding.
Under ARI, the Army receives Apaches from the Army National Guard in exchange for its Black Hawks. The Army also retires all OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed reconnaissance helicopters, and UH-72A Lakotas become the primary training aircraft for initial rotary-wing training. The commission focused on the issue of Apache transfers and did not make recommendations regarding other aspects of ARI, including Kiowa Warrior retirements and the use of Lakota for initial training.
Both the U.S. Congress and the Defense Dept. are set to consider the commission’s recommendations. The Apache is developed by Boeing; the Black Hawk is developed by Sikorsky, a division of Lockheed Martin; and the Lakota is developed by Eurocopter, a division of Airbus.