By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Jan. 14, 2016) -- In a rapidly changing global security environment, coupled with declining military budgets, the Army needs top-notch aviators trained by creative and experienced commanders who can wring the most out of what little training budget they have, the Army's vice chief of staff said.
"The creativity you apply in training your units will develop the next generation of leaders and shape the future of our Army," Gen. Daniel B. Allyn said. "Training in garrison cannot be viewed as 'routine.' It must replicate the complexity of flying in Iraq or Afghanistan and it is incumbent upon those of you who have flown and fought in these demanding environments for more than 14 years to train-up the next generation of pilots."
Allyn spoke at the start of a day-long series of an aviation-related panel of discussions at the headquarters of the Association of the U.S. Army in Arlington, Virginia, Jan. 14.
Allyn also laid out requirements for aviation modernization that he said were critical to ensuring Army aviation's continued prowess on the battlefield. Among those were increased manned-unmanned teaming, an accurate definition of future vertical-lift requirements, improvements to the power and agility of the current fleet, development of "lethality that pairs precision and discrimination for engagements in complex terrain," and enhancements to survivability through improvements in ability to both detect and defeat new enemy capabilities.
"This is not a wish-list," the general said. "These are must-haves to deliver an aviation force capable of dominating future battlefields."
Maj. Gen. Michael D. Lundy, commanding general of Fort Rucker, Alabama, and the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, laid out the latest details regarding progress with the Army's Aviation Restructure Initiative. The aim of that initiative is to allow the aviation branch to continue to provide to the Army and the nation the same asymmetric advantage it has had for the last 14 years.
Lundy said the Army has almost entirely divested all of its aging OH-58D Kiowa Warrior aircraft. There are only two squadrons left.
"We will finish divestiture here during FY16, minus the 1-17 [Cavalry Regiment (AIR)], which will roll-up and be the last squadron that will operate in [South] Korea. They will do their last deployment," he said.
Also on track is divestiture of training aircraft on Fort Rucker, including the TH-67 Creek and the OH-58 Kiowa. This week for the first time, he said, courses are already underway training new pilots with the new UH-72 Light Utility Helicopter.
Divestiture of UH-60A Black Hawks is behind, however, the general said. "That's an issue." Those Black Hawks, moving out of the National Guard, will be replaced with more modern UH-60Ls, and those will eventually be converted to the UH-60V variant, which features a glass cockpit.
With programs underway now, the Army is looking to improve an aviator's ability to see in degraded visual environments, to field an improved air-to-ground missile with the Joint Air to Ground Missile, to provide improved engines in the Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache aircraft through its Improved Turbine Engine Program, and to enhance aircraft survivability.
Those programs, and others Lundy called "disruptive technology," are on track and moving forward, despite earlier concerns.
"A lot of these programs were at risk, or they were just good ideas," Lundy said. "I will tell you that they are all in very good shape right now. And even though they will come slower than we want because of budgetary concerns, all the programs are safe; they are on track; they are in our long-range plans, and they have got great support across the Army staff."
MORE FLYING HOURS
A chief concern for Lundy, he said, is the limited number of hours Army aviators are getting in the cockpit.
"This is an area where I have great concern right now," he said. "Our flying hour program is not what it needs to be."
The general said the Army is taking a "holistic look" at aviation flying hours to find ways to alleviate the problem of aviators flying fewer hours than what is needed to maintain proficiency.
Lundy also said that every Army operation globally involves an aviation component, and that the operations tempo for aviators is "higher than what we saw, even during the surge, if you look at a mission tempo perspective. We are expecting Army aviation to be out there, to be able to do that. We need to be training at a much higher level to maintain our proficiency, especially as we think about decisive action and combined arms operations."
An in-the-works solution for dealing with the increased operations tempo, Lundy said, is to finally fill the cockpits of equipment in the 11th CAB with Soldiers. That unit has the gear it needs already, but it now needs personnel. That, he said, is a priority for Army aviation.
The "No. 1 priority is to man that CAB," Lundy said. "If we do that, it will help us mitigate some of the op tempo issues."
Right now, he said, "demand signal is outpacing our capability to support all of it. We are having to make hard choices."