The Department of Defense (DoD) currently recognizes that Army Aviation is a key enabler on the battlefield, even though it represents only 7 percent of the Army. Thurman revealed that Army Aviation has logged 4.5 million combat hours from Feb. 1, 2003 to date, with a further 1.1 million combat hours flown by unmanned aerial systems (UAS). “We are sustaining over 650 helicopters in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are also another 145-plus committed in other overseas locations, then there [are another] 2,900 on the continent of the United States. We are also operating at least 350 fixed-wing aircraft worldwide. No other army in the world can put up numbers that come close to this or do it so far from home station.”
His address reflected three topics:
-The continuing high demand for aviation capabilities at home and around the world. The need to continue to figure out how to sustain this force—both in terms of people and platforms, in an era of declining budgets.
-The success achieved after nine years of war.
-The difficulties that were expected and had to be met from declining budgets.
“We continue to train, man and equip for operations in two primary theaters of war,” he noted. “Our soldiers are in daily contact with a decentralized, adaptive, creative and deadly enemy, while simultaneously managing the effects of a decreased budget. We can never let this reduced budget get in the minds of the soldiers on the battlefield and we have got to do everything in the world to protect these soldiers and keep them sustained.”
Thurman went on to say that sustaining the operational tempo constitutes “our biggest challenge today.” He welcomed the formation of an additional two Combat Aviation Brigades (CABs) but stressed that both were fundamentally required if the operational tempo was to be maintained.
He was quick to praise the success of conducting “individual and group qualification through home based with new equipment training teams” and emphasized the need to “continue to lessen the impact of training on families.”
Thurman said that is was the aviation brigade commander’s responsibility to participate in combined arms training with his ‘maneuver brothers’ to include aircraft integration with them, but he said he realized that “we are struggling to meet this in terms of the amount of time that our aviation units have at home and the amount of time it takes to reset those formations.”
“We need to find better ways to do the aircraft integration,” he added, stating that “over the next 15 years the Army’s plan is to build a force of manned and unmanned aircraft optimized for full spectrum operations. Accomplishing this amounts to a significant challenge for the Army staff, industry and the acquisition community.”
“I believe that acquisition overall has done a good job in supporting the war, but I have been calling for true acquisition reform. This pertains to aviation as well. The army is working to bring discipline to our acquisition programs, by evaluating and realigning requirements today with what we will need in the future. We have accomplished much in technology and training, but I am challenging both the industrial Army and private industry to conduct after action reviews; understand what we have done over the past few years, what we need to do in the future, and how we need to adapt and increase efficiency in the system. We have to field platforms quicker—and aviation systems. We are clearly in an era of protracted conflict coupled with an era of declining budgets. We have to come together to do even more in these fiscally tough times. As the FORSCOM commander I am focused on building readiness at best value.”
(Look for the extended version of this article in the June print issue of Rotor & Wing.)