|Plans to restructure the U.S. Army’s aviation operations would keep AH-64 Apaches in the National Guard. Photo courtesy of Boeing
The National Commission on the Future of the Army has proposed an aviation restructure solution that would keep AH-64 Apaches in the U.S. Army National Guard, but it would cost an extra $165 million a year, on top of a $420 million upfront cost.
The commission, in its report released Jan. 28, 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 National Guard’s solution, formed in response.
The commission’s solution would maintain 24 manned Boeing AH-64 battalions, of which 20 would be in the active Army (same as under ARI). Four would be in the National Guard (compared to zero under ARI). All the active Army battalions would be equipped with 24 aircraft.
The four 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 a National Guard battalion. The commission said this strategy is commonly employed today.
To hold down costs, the commission’s solution assumes that only two Sikorsky Aircraft UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter battalions are added to the 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 3%.
Operating costs, under the commission’s solution, would increase by a net of about $165 million a year due to the added costs of four 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 to E models. These remanufactures would likely occur 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 National Guard. Another offset could be savings from personnel cuts designed to leave the National Guard 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. — By Pat Host