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Q&A with Army Aviation PEO Tim Crosby

By By Keith Brown | July 1, 2012
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Left: Crosby during an exclusive Rotor & Wing interview. Right: At Quad-A in April, Crosby at a press conference with other Army leaders, including Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield (sitting next to Crosby).

U.S. Army Aviation Maj. Gen. William “Tim” Crosby, the Program Executive Officer (PEO) since 2008, leads an organization with seven unique Project offices, more than 2,250 military, government civilians and contractors, and a 2013 budget of $7.76 billion. Rotor & Wing recently had an opportunity to sit down with Crosby to discuss the state of Army Aviation, including impacts of declining budgets, Future Vertical Lift, and the Armed Aerial Scout program.

Rotor & Wing: Within the Army Aviation Enterprise, there are many senior leaders contributing to the success of day-to-day and strategic efforts. What’s your role as the PEO-Aviation compared with others in the “six-pack?”


Crosby: Well as you know the six-pack brings us together, looking at not just the material enterprise, but within the entire enterprise of the Aviation branch and how it contributes to the Army. We don’t think in terms of just Army Aviation, we think about what Army Aviation brings to the Army’s role. My particular role is the lifecycle manager of the systems of that equipment we provide to our user. What we focus on is that material, and those needs may be a new piece of equipment, but all of it doesn’t change what the soldier does; it changes how the soldier does it. My focus within PEO Aviation has always been to reduce the burden on the solider of the mission he is trying to accomplish. That’s my passion.

Rotor & Wing:How have budget cuts impacted the PEO Aviation portfolio?

Crosby: We took a cut last year that was not proportional to many of my brothers and sisters in the other development activities. So we have fared pretty well overall. We’ve had to take some appetite suppressants, we’ve had to slow down a few things with the cuts that we’ve received, but we were able to maintain the vitality of Army Aviation and all of its development programs.

Having said all of that, the forecast maybe is not quite as bright. We’re running a lot of drills right now looking to the future. Because Army Aviation is in excess of 20 percent of the Army’s budget, we are pretty good size target right now as things get tight, and we’ll have to step up to the plate and pay our fair share. Everybody is going to have to give up something.

Rotor & Wing: Given these current (and likely future) budget challenges, how do you take a balanced approach to managing and sustaining programs?

Crosby: To me, it’s all about maintaining or managing your buying power. So if we manage year to year instead of our multi-years [contracts], you’re losing a significant amount of buying power. We’re saving in excess of 10 percent with each of these multi-years across the life of that multi-year. When you are buying Aviation platforms, and you’ve got a $3.7-billion contract, that’s $370 million that is saved to our taxpayers and soldiers. So what I’ve been preaching to the world is a balanced approach.

You’ve got to maintain your balanced investments, you’ve got to maintain your current modernization strategy and you’ve got to maintain your S&T, and then on the back end, your sustainment. It would be very short-sighted if we just tried to balance the book today without a future vision. 

Crosby makes a point about life cycle management during the AHS Forum in May.

Rotor & Wing: What does Aim Point 2030 mean to you and what’s the role of Future Vertical Lift?

Crosby: I think we looked at the life of our aircraft, we looked at the remanufacture programs that we have now, we looked at the op tempo that we are flying, we looked at the maintenance burden on the soldier and you put that into the sausage-making machine and you come out needing a new capability in 2030. And why was that picked? It wasn’t picked across the fleet. We looked objectively—the area that we have not done anything with since before we started Comanche is the Kiowa. So I’m about to tell you that’s my number one need, but I’m about to tell you that’s not what we’re pursuing in Future Vertical Lift. We’re pursuing the attack-utility variant and going to accept some risk in the scout area because 75 percent of our fleet is in the attack-utility [range]. So if I only have a minimum investment to make, the return on our investment will be better if we invest in that medium variant. So we’ll accept risk in the scout area by either doing a service life extension program (SLEP) or the Armed Aerial Scout demo that we’re doing.

Rotor & Wing: What will it take to bring the engineering, S&T, military and commercial helicopter communities together on the same page to develop Future Vertical Lift technologies?

Crosby: It takes a vision. It takes a vision of where you’re going. Our industry partnership is very strong. We’re not going to get all those science and technology funds that we need to do this; industry gets a certain amount of IR&D (independent R&D) that they will use, but we can ill-afford for them to be pursuing something that’s not our highest priorities. So somehow we’ve got to communicate all of that and maintain us all on the same sheet of music, so that we’re complementing each other, not competing with each other. The Future Vertical Lift Consortium is one avenue to do that.

Rotor & Wing: What’s PEO Aviation’s role over the next few years in Future Vertical Lift?

Crosby: We are in the process now, in the team we’ve identified, what the programmatic timeline is. It’s basically a reverse planning sequence, which we all know well. We looked at 2030, we looked at the timelines we needed to start working backward from that, when we needed to involve each of the different aspects. S&T is doing two demonstrators right now that will identify and codify those gaps and what the S&T areas are that we need to focus on. I’ve already taken out of hiding and double-dutied one of my PMs to start doing the planning for how you would transition this to a program of record and when all of that would start with what the resource requirements are to do it, both personnel and dollars, and what we think that split should be if this is going to be a joint program going forward.

Rotor & Wing: What are your top S&T priorities?

Crosby: The demonstrators that we’re trying to resource. We will have to compete very, very well to get both of those resourced. And the Improved Turbine Engine Program (an Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate project that involves both General Electric and ATEC, a joint venture of Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney) and then I would say the current obsolescence effort. Those would probably be my top three.

Rotor & Wing: The Armed Aerial Scout analysis of alternatives (AoA) is complete, the Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) met recently, and the long-awaited RFI regarding flight demonstrations and evaluation of new technologies is published. How will the results of the demonstrations affect the DAB decision on a new start program vs. sustaining Kiowa?

Crosby: The sufficiency memo has been signed now by OSD, accepted it, and said it was a good AoA. And as you know it said two things, it validated manned and unmanned teaming. And the other was that the only way to get to the firm, complete Armed Aerial Scout requirement is a new start. We know in this environment there is no way we can afford it, so we’re looking. That’s what took us down the path of just doing the SLEP, and then we came up with the idea of many other companies that think they can get to an 80 percent solution, so that’s what has got us looking to see what’s out there, to make that decision. What we want to make is an informed business case decision. So, if you look at the CASUP program and the SLEP, it will get to about 55 percent of the Armed Aerial Scout requirement. The cost to get to 100 percent was unaffordable, that’s why we’re not asking for a new program, we’re going to focus on Future Vertical Lift and accept risk in that area. So we want to make an informed decision across the portfolio, not just a programmatic decision.

The other aspect of it, that I’ve been pushing really hard on is, it’s not just the procurement cost. It’s the cost to procure it, it’s the cost to qualify it, it’s the cost to put it in to provision, put it into sustainment base, and it’s the cost to train it. You have to take out the old system and put in a new one. All of those costs are part of that business case decision that we need to make.

Rotor & Wing: Software is becoming an increasingly important, complex and expensive component of our aviation and support systems. How do we effectively manage it—does the government play a role or do we leave to the OEMs to manage as a part of larger integration effort?

Crosby: If you’re talking about software on your cell phone or software in your car, or whatever else, you can probably let the OEM do that. In Aviation, we can’t; now these systems are becoming digital and can affect flight controls. They can affect the safety of that airplane, so we’ve got to be right up front and engaged with the management, with the development, and the sustainment of that software. Now, having said that, that’s not free, that’s something that we have to plan for in our programs and long-term management and evolution of those systems. We’ve managed critical safety items forever in Aviation. I think software is very rapidly becoming a critical safety item. Now, we’re learning how to put up firewalls and parsers and use those things to limit their exposure, but that’s going to be a continuous upgrade process, and regression testing is going to be the key as we make these changes. Software is going to be a key management area for the future.

Rotor & Wing: How is Army UAS evolving?

Crosby: Army Aviation is the proponent for our unmanned aerial vehicles and I think the focus that our users had on RSTA has been the right path that will eventually, I think, expand. I would say our next focus is in operations in national airspace. How do we train and maintain and make sure that our populace, that our American people are safe with these things flying over? So, we’ve got to do that right. I do believe that we will expand and see ourselves starting work in the supply and resupply area and could potentially get into doing some search and rescue. We are usually pushing the envelope within the military with things like this and we are with UAS today.

Rotor & Wing: USMC has had some great success recently with the demonstration of unmanned cargo delivery in theater. Do you see a need for this VTOL capability for utility missions in the Army?

Crosby: Absolutely, I do. We are paralleling the Marine Corps. They are part of our joint UAS office here. So they participate with us. They are pursuing that and it’s a higher priority for them right now and we are certainly partnering with them and learning from them, and we certainly don’t want to duplicate anything that they’ve already done. What we don’t talk a lot about, in my mind, is optionally manned vehicles. What if you had a Chinook helicopter out there that you could fly manned or unmanned? That could be somewhere in that crystal ball of somebody’s thinking down the road, to me it opened up a lot of possibility. Now on the materials side, I’ve got to give them a system that will do that. In order to give you that kind of capability, we need to transition our platforms to what we call fly-by-wire, a totally software-driven architecture within the aircraft.

Rotor & Wing: Where do you see opportunities for small and medium-size businesses in Army Aviation over the next few years?

Crosby: I see it. What I worry about is we declare victory and come home; is many of our industry partners, first, second, third tier vendors have stepped up to the plate and met our needs and accommodated us in this war and have done a magnificent job of doing so. Now as we return to a normal op tempo and to a trained and ready Army philosophy, then many of our young, smaller vendors are going to struggle to stay alive. We’ve got to be very good and accurate at forecasting to them what our needs are which will allow them to invest in themselves and help us deal with obsolescence. Because obsolescence is going to be key in many of these areas as we slow down, how they are able to invest in themselves to meet our needs with many of these components.

We’ve been successful in communicating with our industry partners, users as well as our partner nations and other government agencies, through our Users’ Conferences. Because budgets have declined, I’m not sure how many more of these Users’ Conferences we can afford to have in the next few years, but we have to be smart about how we’re going to continue to effectively communicate with all our stakeholders. The conferences have helped us immensely to plan for the short-, mid- and the long-term. Aviation currently has the best portfolio in the Army, and we’re working hard to maintain that so we can continue to effectively support our soldiers.

Rotor & Wing: What are the biggest successes within Army Aviation over the last few years?

Crosby: Maintaining the op tempo with the high readiness rate that they are doing in theater while continuing to modernize and upgrade virtually every system we have. I equate it to trying to change the motor while you’re driving down the highway, and what this Aviation enterprise has done is just magnificent. I’m very, very proud of all of them; I certainly don’t take credit for it; the first one that gets the credit is the soldier, that’s taking what we’ve given him and so magnificently, done all of the great things that they’ve done. But then I look at what our great PMs and our sustainment base and our engineering team have all done, our contracting folks to make all this happen—quite often in spite of the process, not because of it—and continue to maintain those kind of readiness rates. This has built a confidence in the ground commander and Army Aviation that I don’t think we’ve ever had. They are just very, very proud, and what we can do now, we come home and go into a slowing down position, we can ill afford to break that trust and that bond that we’ve built this last 10 years.

Rotor & Wing:When you leave PEO Aviation, what will be your legacy?

Crosby: I hope it will be teamwork; of a multitude of organizations, teaming together to provide the best lifecycle management for the soldier that reduces their burden. That they have the confidence that these PM-lead teams are their go-to people to execute their mission. That’s what I’d like for it to be.

Note: Since the AAS RFI release, the Army held Industry Days on Redstone on May 23 and 24. The Army anticipates about four to six of the interested vendors to have a flyable aircraft at the demonstration. The PM conducted one-on-one discussions during that time and already began coordinating plans and schedules to conduct the demo. The voluntary flight demonstrations may begin as early as the end of June, with completion anticipated in October/November 2012. The Army plans approximately two weeks with each interested vendor to conduct the demo, and that could vary depending on individual scope.

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