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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Missions Solutions Summit: Army Leaders Warn of Rough Ride Ahead

Speakers addressed the government sequestration and the impact it's had on the U.S. Army at this year's Quad-A conference.

By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief

Leading speakers on the opening day of Quad-A 2014, this year named as the Army Aviation Missions Solutions Summit, ground down the message about the impact on sequestration and how the Army had to change during the new format and shorter two-day summit.

Speaking during the first session on the opening day, Heidi Shyu, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), made the point that the historical economic trend was that following the inevitable increase in defense spending when the nation was at war, a period of significant decrease followed; among examples, she cited a 51 percent decline after the Korean War and a 25 percent decline after the Vietnam War.

 

Full-size model of the Bell V-280 Valor. Photo by Andrew Drwiega 

She said that Federal budget would continue to decline and that “long-term sequestration is still with us and [was] a long-term threat to future capabilities.” Just how much that had impacted defense spending could be taken, she said, from the fact that in fiscal year (FY) 2012 the projected research, development and acquisition budget for the Army, including aviation, in FY15 had been set at $32.6 billion. That contrasted, she said, with the actual FY15 budget currently with Congress, which is under $21 billion.

Shyu noted that tough affordability tradeoffs were being made but that aviation was recognized as a critical capability enabler. She said it was a time to be “strategic and decisive [while realizing] we can’t have everything that we want.”

To do this, she said that Army leadership was focused on reducing procurement quantities to match the projected force structure. The path ahead still continues to include reset and sustainment, incremental upgrades and targeted investment for new capability as well as a commitment to science and technology. Getting value for multi-year programs was playing an important role, which was resulting in a 15 percent or more cost savings for the Army.

According to Shyu, it takes around three years to reset a helicopter from the moment it is returned from the battlefield. This process is dependent on overseas contingency funding (OCU). As that declines, so does the rate at which aircraft can be reset. In FY12 that would mean 270 helicopters being reset while in FY15 that would drop to 252 aircraft.

Risk, measured in new capability, will be continued in the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP); the Joint Air Ground Missile (JAGM) system; the aircrew integrated helmet (including laser eye-protection) and a communication enhance and protection system; and of course, Future Vertical Lift (FVL) programs.

On the second day, Lt. Gen. James Barclay, deputy chief of staff for G-8, said that the Army’s command was now working on the 2016-20 program. “We are still going to have some significant challenges in FY16-18. We will struggle to maintain the balance between our readiness, our manning and our modernization programs,” he warned.

He said that the Army would downsize to a 490,000 force by the end of 2015 and a 450,000 force by the end of 2017. He added that if the budget control act remained, then an Army of 420,000 would be reached by the end of 2019.

“On the training and modernization side, we are also on a declining ramp as we move forward,” he warned. He said the force would not come back into balance until the 2020-23 timeframe: “That’s just how long it takes in trying to stabilize your force structure, hold on to your key modernization programs and maintain some sort of readiness for your force.” 

On modernization, he said that there would be incremental improvements. “We are not going after the Armed Aerial Scout (AAS),” he confirmed, which he noted was part of the reason for going into the Aviation Restructuring Initiative (ARI). He said that incremental improvements to existing platforms would be made instead. Within that, Barclay strongly emphasized that the gains made with the industrial base during times of war had to be retained.

“If you look at the numbers, it can get depressing,” he remarked, when looking ahead to FY16 and beyond. “We are going to be tighter and have scalable forces and equipment. We need to get rid of niche capabilities… those that aren’t key; we will divest ourselves of those that we cannot afford.” He added that those with high sustainment costs would be particularly reviewed, but that the Army was not retaining to a “tier readiness” structure.

Barclay confirmed 798 airframes would come out of Army Aviation. He restated that there would be only 10 Combat Aviation Brigades (CABs) although there would be equipment for 11 CABs. But the commitment to Joint Multi Role / Future Vertical Lift (JMR /FVL) had been retained: “I think it is going to be somewhere between the mid-to-late 2030s when that next piece of aviation will be brought in.”

 

BG Bob Marion, PEO, Aviation. Photo by Andrew Drwiega 

Industry Innovations at Quad-A

Northrop Grumman was celebrating the first year of a relationship with Vinnell Arabia over supporting the Saudi Arabian Ministry of National Guard (MNG). “Our aviation team was spun up in 2012 and helicopters started showing up in spring 2013. Before that National Guard was a land force. They now have helicopters,” said Frank Simpkins, director of strategic and business development for Northrop Grumman’s training solutions division.

Tony Sabb said that Vinnell’s team has trained and qualified 25 pilots and pilots-in-command on the MD530F at a facility in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “They were already qualified as rated helicopter pilots but until they were able to get the advanced aircraft that the National Guard is buying [including Sikorsky Black Hawks and Boeing AHis and AH-64E Apaches] then their skills need to be maintained.”

The MNG acquired 12 MD530F civilian helicopters. By the beginning of May 3,000 accident-free flight hours had been flown in Saudi Arabia. “We provide the concurrent training that they need,” said Sabb. “Our maintenance trainers not only look after the aircraft but also train the Saudi maintainers. We also manage supply train and logistics.”

Sabb confirmed that Vinnell had achieved a 96 percent operational readiness rating. The support has also included English language training to the aviators and technicians, as well as ground support such as air traffic control and fire rescue services.

Currently all training is “live” on the aircraft, although some synthetic systems in the form of cockpit crew trainers and maintenance simulation training in the form of mock aircraft.

Vinnell Arabia started in 1975 to supply ground training to the MNG, gunnery, logistics, in fact many aspects of training. Helicopter training adds another dimension to that. The contract is run under FMS and through the Office of Program Management with U.S. military personnel support.

Lockheed Martin’s Matt Hoffman announced that the company had received a $80.6-million contact for its Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor (M-TADS/PNVS). The Lot 9 contract was for a total of 17 M-TADS/PVNS, eight of which were for the U.S. Army, while nine are for the Indonesian Army (who are in the process of procuring eight Boeing AH-64E Apaches).

Hoffman said that the Lot 9 system is very modular so that it can be “repaired and replaced at the flight line through unit level maintenance.” He added that its reliability was around 96 percent.

Although a 30-year-old technology, new features include a high visibility color camera, better stability and extended range, and a new laser pointer marker said Hoffman. “Obsolescence was the main factor that we had to overcome,” he said.

There is an ultra narrow field of view that allows better magnification at greater ranges.

 

The U.S. Army panel at Quad-A. Photo by Andrew Drwiega

Col. Steven Van Riper, U.S. Army Apache Sensors Product Manager, said that they are two thirds of the way through Modernized Day Sensor Assembly (M-DSA) qualification test program. The day after the Quad-A briefing, he said that an Apache would leave Redstone, Ala., for the Yuma proving ground to complete the final one-third of testing on the system including live fire.

Riper echoed Hoffman’s comment that there had been a quantum leap in the performance of the system. “We are not over dramatizing – moving from analog to digital systems as part of the Phase 2 capability would give the crews a level of situational awareness in the Apache that they had not had in the past. It will also dramatically improve the maintenance posture within individual units.”

More than 1,200 kits that have been fielded to date and production has been confirmed to July 2016.

 

Editor’s Note: Comments made by Bell Helicopter CEO John Garrison and AVX Aircraft President and Chief Engineer Troy Gaffey will be incorporated into the July issue feature on Tiltrotors and Compound aircraft.

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