By C. Todd Lopez
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (April 02, 2012) -- The military's budget may shrink, but the outlook on Army aviation is optimistic, said the commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence.
More than 1,000 members of the Army aviation community and commercial aviation industry took in the opening remarks of Maj. Gen. Anthony G. Crutchfield here, April 2, at the opening of the 2012 Army Aviation Association of America conference in Nashville, Tenn.
A photograph on a display screen featured a helicopter in silhouette, with a low-hanging sun in the background. The general used the image, one in which it was hard to discern the time of day, to illustrate the future of Army aviation: is Army aviation in decline, like a setting sun? Or is it on the rise?
"Based on things that you read, there will be those who say this is a sunset, because of the problems we face," Crutchfield said. "I see this as a sunrise."
The general said the Army is changing again, as it has in the past. "Change is hard, but it's not bad."
A large change, most recently: the Army is coming back from 10 years at war. Operations in Iraq have ended, and the end of operations in Afghanistan is on the horizon. The Army has gone now to nine-month deployments, Crutchfield said, and that means more time at home. How the services uses that time will determine, in part, the future of Army aviation, he said.
"What do we have to do as an Army, as a branch, to make sure that with that time at home, we stay a sharp force, ready to be called and fight the nation's wars when called to do so," he asked.
The Army today is combat-proven, he said, and the Army must work hard to preserve that combat readiness.
At last year's AAAA conference, Crutchfield introduced the Army's "AimPoint 2030" vision. The year 2030, Crutchfield said, is "a point that we have to produce strong, capable aviators with future vertical lift that's different than what we have today: faster, lethal, reduced logistical footprint, expanded ranges -- all those things."
Since last year, the Army took the concept and "put meat on the bone." Four points of that include the goals of meeting future reconnaissance attack and vertical maneuver missions; organizing into rapidly deployable and adaptable formations; equipping with a new generation of multi-mission manned and unmanned aircraft; and greatly reducing the aviation sustainment footprint.
A new aviation campaign plan has also been introduced that spells out how to achieve those goals. That plan he said will have "measurable output."
"We know that there are three things that are important today that are going to remain important: that's train, sustain and modernize," he said. "This campaign plan uses the simplicity of [that] for the basis of everything that we write. All the objectives and all the tasks are rooted in those three things."
Modernizing the Army's aviation fleet is of critical importance to maintaining a strong aviation force, Crutchfield said. Topics of interest at the 2012 AAAA conference include modernization updates on the AH-64 Apache fleet, unmanned aerial systems, and the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior.
Crutchfield said sustaining today's fleet is important, but the Army must also look beyond modernizing and improving what it has already in today's arsenal.
"Our future really does depend on sustaining what we have today but [also] modernizing our future vertical-lift capabilities for tomorrow," he said. "At some point the helicopters that we have today will be obsolete. No matter how much money we put into them, they will be obsolete."
The Army, he said, must make sure that future aviators and future commanders have the technology and capability they need to fight future wars.
To meet its goals, Crutchfield said the Army aviation community must speak with a common voice, and clearly define what it needs. "The quickest way to get nothing is to ask for everything," he said.
The Army aviation community must clearly define its needs before moving forward to pursue acquisition, for instance. The Army will need to spend money, he said, but must do so at the best cost. Army must define what it needs, "snap the chalk line" and then go get it, without changing requirements, and without speaking with multiple voices. "That's how we're going to have a branch that will sustain the sharp edge that we have today."
"The bottom line is the Soldier," he said. "If we don't have a way to ensure we get what a Soldier needs to have for that Soldier to deploy, fight, win, and return to their families, then we have failed as leaders."
The AAAA conference runs April 2-4 in Nashville.