When the U.S. Army introduces a new rotorcraft platform sometime in the mid-2020s, they will field with new high-echelon aviation units instead of disrupting existing Combat Aviation Brigades that fly legacy helicopters.
The Army is intent on buying both a dedicated armed reconnaissance aircraft and a long-range assault replacement for the Black Hawk under the Future Vertical Lift program. As the new aircraft come online they will equip new corps-level aviation units that will report directly to a three-star general, according to Maj. Gen. William Gayler, the Army’s chief aviator.
“We do know that our corps lack the capabilities they used to have and we know they need something back, we just don’t know yet what exactly are they going to get back,” Gayler said Sept. 5 at an aviation forum hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army at its headquarters outside Washington, D.C. “The timing’s right, now, because if you are going to introduce a new aircraft … you have to have a strategy to bring it on.”
“We think, potentially, a corps asset is a logical way to look at a strategy to build a unit with a new aircraft without touching any of the CABs and it doesn’t create churn and chaos,” he added.
By introducing a Future Vertical Lift platform to Corps-level units the Army won’t have to disrupt operation of its existing combat aviation brigades. Each CAB would have to be taken out of rotation for almost a year to train pilots and maintainers to use a new aircraft, he said.
The 10 existing CABs already are 84 percent committed to various missions. Standing one down for the transition would place even more stress on the nine active brigades, Gayler said.
“All that’s going to do is make the nine CABs that are not in a transition, they’re op tempo is going to go through the roof more than it already is,” Gayler said.
There is no set plan on how to cascade new rotorcraft down to division and brigade level. Gayler said the Army will field according to which units will provide the most capability with minimal operational disruption.
First to field likely will be an Apache-sized armed scout platform called the “Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA). Plans are to have at least two prototypes flying by 2023 so the Army can finally have a dedicated replacement for the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior.
“When we look at our capability to get in, to fight for combat information and reconnaissance and security in and out of contact with an enemy force, that requires us to have an armed reconnaissance aircraft that has some unique capability,” Gayler said.
The aircraft will be defined by its “reach, protection, lethality, speed, range and endurance to stay on and fight for extended periods of time in an expeditionary fashion,” he said. FARA must also be small and maneuverable enough to “minimize targetable detection.”
The Army also has a requirement to move masses of troops and cargo long distances into enemy-controlled territory. That aircraft likely will result from the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) aimed at a Black-Hawk sized utility aircraft that is significantly faster and more maneuverable than the legacy UH-60.
“When you have an adversary that has standoff, that can reach out and touch you with certain capabilities, you need to be able to operate outside of that threat range but with the speed to respond the same as we do today,” Gayler said. “We need that long-range assault aircraft.”
Add to that mix robotic unmanned wingmen for the new aircraft capable of collecting battlefield intelligence beyond just full-motion video, Gayler said. Future unmanned aerial systems should be able to sense on the electromagnetic system, identify and geolocate targets for manned aircraft to engage, he said.
“That’s potentially unmanned systems that are teamed with manned systems that can target and kill it instantly,” he said. “We need unmanned capabilities that can swarm, that can clutter, that can defeat an integrated air-defense system, that aid us in defeating that integrated air-defense system.”