A year ago, U.S. Congress was faced with the challenge of passing a spending deal to keep the government funded and avoid a shutdown. During that time, we wrote about the importance of the defense budget on U.S. Army aviation initiatives on modernization — with two Army leaders expressing their positions at Quad A’s 2017 Army Aviation Missions Solutions Summit that continuing resolutions will affect modernization and readiness efforts of all U.S. forces. The budget ended up passing in time to fund the government through September of last year. Budget woes return this year, as retired Army Brig. Gen. Steve Mundt wrote to Army Aviation Association of America's publication that fixing a broken national funding process means doing away with continuing resolutions and passing true appropriation bills. The 2018 Army Aviation Mission Solutions Summit will be held April 25 to 27 at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel & Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
Bell Helicopter V-280 on display at Quad A's summit in 2017.
From April 28, 2017: Key U.S. Army aviation modernization initiatives will grind to a halt as soon as this week if Congress fails to enact and submit for President Trump’s signature Fiscal 2017 defense budget by Friday at midnight, leaders of that service told the annual gathering of the Army Aviation Assn. of America in Nashville Thursday.
Those initiatives include technology-maturation and risk-reduction work by two competing teams on the U.S. Army's Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) and an analysis of alternatives for Capability Set Three (or utility aircraft version) of the Pentagon's Army-led Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program.
April 28 is the date on which the current continuing resolution funding federal government operations expires. Republican Party leaders are racing to win approval for a one-week extension of the continuing resolution to give them time to hammer out and pass budgets to fund the Pentagon and other federal departments and agencies through the end of Fiscal 2017 Sept. 30.
But two Army leaders reiterated at Quad A’s 2017 Army Aviation Missions Solutions Summit their service’s position that another continuing resolution will prevent the derailment of critical modernization efforts and will further hurt the readiness of U.S. forces.
A continuing resolution that does not raise funding to planned and requested levels would mean “procurement funding currently on hold remains on hold, preventing the Army from immediately addressing known shortfalls and gaps critical to maintaining overmatch with our adversaries,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Marion, the deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management for Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.
“Sustained, long-term and predictable funding is essential for the Army to maintain current readiness and build a modern, capable future force.”
Marion spoke for Steffanie Easter, the acting assistant secretary for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, who was invited but unable to attend. His comments echoed those of Maj. Gen. William Gayler, commanding general of the Army's Aviation Center of Excellence in Fort Rucker, Alabama.
“The budget is the No. 1 threat to readiness across DOD,” Gayler said in summarizing challenges facing Army aviation. Continuing resolutions to date preserve the limits of the 2011 Budget Control Act, which limits annual budget growth throughout the federal government. Going into Fiscal 2018 with those constraints still in place “would put at risk many, many things: immediate readiness and modernization programs,” the general said.
“Every single thing Army aviation does is for a commander and his soldiers on the ground,” Gayler added. “When you look at the things that aviation must do, there are three consistent required capabilities. We find stuff. We move stuff — people, equipment. And we kill stuff, for a force on the ground, to give that vertical-envelopment capability, to drive the tempo of the flight, to present an enemy with multiple dilemmas. And we have got to continue to do that in the future.”
Marion said the lack of a 2017 budget “is keeping nearly 50 new-start programs across the Army from starting” this year and is forcing 80 other programs that have started to operate with funding restricted to 2016 levels. “We won't be able to fund our 2017 levels because we don't have a budget.”
One of the 80 programs is ITEP, which is aimed at producing a new-technology, more powerful and efficient turboshaft engine for the Army's fleets of Boeing AH-64 Apaches and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks as well as the new family of vertical-lift aircraft envisioned by FVL.
Last August, the Army awarded a pair of contracts to General Electric and the Honeywell-Pratt & Whitney joint venture known as Advanced Turbine Engine Company (ATEC) for preliminary design reviews of their ITEP contenders: GE’s GE3000 and ATEC’s HPW3000.
Based on those contracts, “both those vendors developed schedules and are executing to that program,” Marion said. “But again their 2017 activity is constrained at their 2016 budget levels. So both those vendors this week will stop work” unless a full budget is passed or continuing resolution is written that specifically allows for their work to continue.
Officials of GE and ATEC said they expect to receive notice from the Army this week to halt work unless new funding legislation is passed.
Marion said the budget predicament also may disrupt FVL work.
“Right now, our Capability Set Three analysis of alternatives will not happen if we do not get a budget" or specific relief from continuing resolution-related spending restrictions.
The FVL program this year began the AOA to stock of all vertical-lift requirements in the military services to inform a decision on what should be Capability Set Three. Competing teams led by Bell Helicopter and Sikorsky-Boeing are working to fly their prototype contenders under the related Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator initiative, with Bell planning to fly its V-280 in September and Sikorsky-Boeing its SB>1 Defiant in early 2018.