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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Editor’s Notebook: Married with Children

By Andrew Parker

aparker@accessintel.com

This month’s issue marks the formal launch of an increased focus within the pages of Rotor & Wing on vertical lift R&D and science and technology (S&T) efforts to develop rotorcraft into the future. In addition to a special R&D Report: Target 2030 that’s part of our Military Insider publication (starting on page M1), the July issue features Keith Brown’s exclusive interview with U.S. Army Aviation Maj. Gen. William “Tim” Crosby, program executive officer of U.S. Army Aviation (see story on page 54).

Crosby told a crowd of engineers at the AHS Forum in May that expanded collaboration between S&T and military program management needs to occur, describing a “marriage” of the groups, in order to develop and fund a family of Future Vertical Lift (FVL) aircraft. “We can ill-afford to be pursuing things that don’t either support Future Vertical Lift or where we need to go in modernizing the platforms that we have,” he noted. That’s “the kind of communication and collaboration we’re going to need in budget-tight environments. … We’ve got to collaborate, we’ve got to coordinate, we’ve got to discuss.”

Crosby pointed out the importance of working toward the future, describing it as a “number one priority” for all interested parties.

“Sometimes it’s easy to focus on the right now, the current budget year, and thinking to yourself that you’re supporting the soldier. That’s the easy way out,” he said, adding that if leadership doesn’t think about long-term, “we’ll feel real good about ourselves today, but in a few years we’ll look back and say we screwed up and it’s our fault. If we accept that short-term answer today, then we have no one to blame but ourselves down the road when our kids are out there trying to fight these battles for us, if we don’t stand our ground and have a vision. And that vision’s got to translate into execution.”

S&T and program management “have got to pull closer together, and this collaboration has got to be tighter to prevent us from using the small amount of resources we’ve got.” Crosby added that when only about $100 million of a total $6-8 billion budget is dedicated to S&T, “that’s budget dust.... If we waste one of those dollars pursuing something that doesn’t tie into our vision for the future, then we’re wasting that, and we can ill-afford to let that happen.”

He concluded that he “never met an engineer that couldn’t design what we asked him to do. What makes your blood boil is when I come in halfway through and keep changing it. So again, that communication flow and that marriage has to happen so that we have a clear vision. You all have the greatest concepts, the ideas—what you need is prioritization of resources.”

Bill Lewis, director for aviation development at the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center (who hosted an S&T briefings panel at AHS), told Rotor & Wing in an exclusive interview (see story on page M12) that the organization’s funding “has remained relatively level since the mid-’80s. The problem with aviation is that our commodities are expensive. The development of our commodities is expensive.” Given all that, he continued, “we very deliberately have industry partners who cost-share with us [and] who try to help us along the path of coming up with the developments. In the case of some companies, they go out on their own and do some developments. So, could we use more? Absolutely.” Lewis pointed out the need to keep FVL operating costs low, noting that “70 percent of the cost of our systems is after we buy the system. So a huge focus of the new aircraft is going to be how to build a zero-maintenance aircraft. But, in order to do that, there must be a lot of embedded technologies.” The collaborative nature of designing an aircraft that can be used across all services is another hurdle, Lewis continued.

“The organizations building these aircraft have to be able to understand cross-discipline approaches. That’s the beauty of the S&T organization—it’s small enough and agile enough to understand and work hand-in-glove with our counterparts functionally to be able to come up with air vehicles that have those kinds of capabilities embedded in them. Remember too, all of these aircraft that we’re building for 2030 are going to be optionally manned. So they will fundamentally fly themselves. It’s a different way of thinking about the fight.”

Working together across the spectrum is one of the most important elements to the success of the FVL program. The U.S. Senate Armed Services committee issued a June 4 report in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2013 that notes despite the link between the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (USD AT&L) and the civil industry-led Vertical Lift Consortium (VLC), not enough headway is being made (see story on page M9).

To take Crosby’s analogy further, the S&T and program management communities not only need to get hitched, but they need to have children, in order to “start a family” of FVL aircraft. Without that close-knit cooperation, FVL could potentially turn into the RAH-66 Comanche program, Part 2—and that’s something nobody can afford.

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