Maj. Gen. Kevin Mangum, commanding general of U.S. Army Aviation, used a very apt metaphor when he said that in the degraded visual environment that is the sequestration budget – the Army leadership was still looking for the ground.
The tempo for change was set after a visit to Army Aviation leaders last year by Gen. Raymond Odierno, Chief of Staff, when he stated: “We can’t afford to have too little aviation, but we darned sure can’t afford to have too much.” From that point on, Mangum and his team realized that however much aviation was appreciated and had earned respect of the ground Army over the years of fighting, it was not immune to the sequestration axe.
The decision was made to proactively decide on their own drawbacks rather than have cuts forced upon them. That way, they hope, Army Aviation will be able to maintain the level of capability through supporting their modernized fleet instead of trying to support every platform across the branch.
On the first day of AUSA Aviation, the full impact of their decisions was revealed. Their joint budget planning team had included but was not exclusive to: Maj. Gen. ‘Tim’ Crosby, Program Executive Officer for Aviation; Maj. Gen. Lynn Collier, Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM); John Shipley, director at Fort Eustis; Brig. Gen. Clayton Hutmacher, Special Operations Command; and Col. John Lindsay, G3/5/7 Aviation. “Collectively we brought all stakeholders together to plan the change,” said Mangum.
|Maj. Gen. Kevin Mangum at AUSA Army Aviation Symposium and Exhibition.
The headline news was the bold decision to finally retire the whole Bell Helicopter OH-58 fleet of helicopters. The reconnaissance role would be handed to the Army’s newest Boeing AH-64E Apaches supported by the rapidly expanding Shadow and Gray Eagle unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
Mangum said that the idea of prolonging the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior by putting “new shoes on an old horse for $10 billion” was ultimately rejected by the committee. “The cockpit sensor upgrade (CASUP) is a $3.1-billion program. To SLEP (service life extension program) the OH-58D/F would cost another $7-plus billion to keep it in the fight for the long haul.”
Mangum also had bad news for industry looking for traction on the Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) requirement, the replacement for the OH-58. “As we looked for alternatives to buy a new helicopter for the AAS; that too would [have been] a $16-billion bill.”
To those soldiers within the Army who would be against the axing of the OH-58, he reminded that: “Scouting is a mission, not a platform.” He noted that back in 2010, funding for manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) had been in itself challenging, but that “now we are going to a smaller force we have the opportunity to repackage the AH-64Es and team them with UAS Shadow and Gray Eagles to meet around 80 percent of that AAS requirement.” The bitter pill for the Army Reserve to swallow is that in order to do that, they would lose all of their AH-64s, to be replaced with Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks.
Training Role for Lakotas
“ The TH-67 fleet has no dollars to sustain it,” revealed Mangum, “so we need to do something different.” The way he had asked the committee was to think in terms of how Army Aviation was comprised – and that came to no single-engine aircraft. “Flight school has not changed significantly since the 30 years I went there,” said Mangum, referring to the actual flight training not the synthetic systems, which have seen dramatic improvement. “If we don’t have a single-engine aircraft in the fleet, how many touch-downs and auto-rotations do we have to do? The [Airbus Helicopters] UH-72 Lakota will fit if we change our flight school model and the digital cockpit will help our young pilots transition to the digital cockpits they will have to fly [when they reach their units].”
But these new aircraft would have to be taken from both the active and reserve components to fill the Fort Rucker, Ala., requirement (Army Aviation Center of Excellence). “The good thing is that they are bought and paid for. This will reduce logistics support for the distributed fleet and the op tempo we will put on the fleet will reduce the dollars per hour in the long run,” he said. The plan was to take half of the requirement each from the Army and National Guard, although the 100 LUHs equipped for border guard missions would stay where they are.
The Army training center itself at Fort Rucker has already taken a hard hit to its existing budget with $250 million of cuts to the flying hour program over the last year. “We have changed the load because we are not changing the standard,” said Mangum. “We will have to train fewer with the budget afforded.”
There has been a 30 percent cut to Fort Rucker’s flying program, which means that in the current year, 899 students will be trained. Said Mangum: “Only 17 months ago, [now] Maj. Gen. Tony Crutchfield’s job was to ramp up capacity to 1,500 students per year – but the highest we got was 1,250 students.” The target was then lowered to 1,199 although the current number is 300 less than that.
Unit flying time is also to suffer. “Looking forward to 2016-2019, we see a 40 percent reduction in sustainment and a 25 percent reduction in training across the Army … so an op tempo of 10.7 hours per crew per month depending on the mission. The Reserve will be down to six hours per crew per month – which equates to a level of basic currency in the aircraft.
CABs Also Threatened
Mangum said that in March 2013, Gen. Odierno asked how much aviation was needed to support the Army at 490,000 soldiers: “We came out as 15 active component Combat Aviation Brigades (CABs).” However with a 13th CAB now building there is no possibility of adding two more. In fact, his Aviation committee said that while 13 CABs would serve an Army of 490,000, if numbers slipped then a worst-case scenario would see a reduction to 10 CABs. But said Mangum, this gloomy scenario was subject to a five-year plan that would only begin to be enacted if there was an “execute order” from on high. The plan was mitigated by the inclusion “decision points” with “off-ramps” to stop the reduction if and when a lower level of budget cuts was reached beforehand.
“The aircraft modernization programs have also been pushed as far to the right as we possibly can,” added Mangum, “to the point where we will pay more per unit than we otherwise would have done based on the length of the contract. Some of youngest pilots still in pre-flight school will serve a full 20-year career, retire from the Army and we will still not have finished fielding UH-60M and AH-64E – that’s have far we have pushed these programs.”
“We need a more nimble force for the future. Operational requirements have not changed although we will need to be more expeditionary.” The force would be restructured to allow it to be deployed in smaller packages for such deployments. Maintaining and sustaining Army Aviation had remained central to the committee’s efforts.
“By getting rid of 898 old aircraft we will clean up a lot of issues. We also get rid of some special tools and other MOS (Military Occupation Specialties),” Mangum asserted, adding: “I don’t like lean but there ain’t going to be no fat. So we will be smaller.”
Army Aviation is “looking over the next ridgeline to Future Vertical Lift (FVL) and maximizing speed, range and payload; we are looking at manned-unmanned teaming; and future concepts still over the horizon. It is a bold proposal. It is pre-decisional and there is no execute order today so we continue to work it,” he concluded.