Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Industry, Working With Or Against U.S. Army: a Toe-to-Toe Discussion at AUSA
The interaction between the U.S. Army aviation leadership and the “great and good” from industry at the AUSA ILW Aviation symposium at National Harbor, Md. came down to a three-way interaction between Boeing’s military aircraft vice president/general manager Phil Dunford, Sikorsky’s president of military systems Phil Maurer, and audience participant (but what a contribution) from U.S. Army Aviation commanding general Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield.
Crutchfield had earlier talked about the launch of his 2030 Vision paper—to appear at Quad-A’s annual gathering in early April 2012. He particularly highlighted the need for ongoing vision and a “campaign plan,” but called for industry to help identify what he needed rather than “tell him what he wanted.”
This is always a ‘chicken and egg’ debate—almost an Abbott and Costello script of ‘what’s on first base’ rather than who. “We have to rethink our current way of business—including our acquisition process. We also need to take an appetite suppressant,” he affirmed.
In trying to answer this call (without upsetting anyone), the panel of industrialists (which also included AgustaWestland’s Scott Retting, EADS North America’s Michael Cosentino and Richard Linhart from Bell Helicopter) said their piece on the session topic of Industry Perspective of Army Aviation Future.
Unfortunately, all but Dunford and Maurer wasted an opportunity. Retting’s script amounted to hardly more than a “buy our helicopters” sales pitch and Linheart looked for more V-22 orders (from the Army?). Rather unhelpfully Castino said that his company was “not going to invest if we don’t understand where the customer is going.” But as we all know—the customer needs help because he already realizes this.
Dunford explained that industry needs speed and direction—and fast. He said that the rotorcraft industry had never been at a more challenging—actually tipping—point in its history, with research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) being at its lowest ebb in 40 years. He also reminded the audience that when the skills and experience started seeping out of the manufacturing facilities in the late 20teens (when the current tranche of orders reach completion), they would be hugely difficult to reform—and at what cost. “We need to diversify and keep the industrial base going,” he pointed out.
Maurer called for greater collaboration (largely with the customer rather than other industry partners—seemed to be the inference) to insure that his company’s own investments in research (X2/S-97) weren’t being wasted.
Crutchfield countered—it was almost a broadside of pent-up frustration: “When I tell you exactly what I need, you will catch onto one attribute and run with it. Several attributes together are what is important—so don’t take the one attribute that your company prefers.” Now into his stride and warming to the discussion he added for good measure: “When we do allow competition, those who don’t win throw up roadblocks. Listen, I don’t care what aircraft it is—I’m going to overspray it with U.S. Army markings anyway!”
The conversation turned to capability verses ‘make do’ (an increasingly used slogan by Crutchfield.) Dunford pointed out the advantages of ‘fly-by-wire’ and that the V-22 was the only rotorcraft in the U.S. military offering this facility (only 12 percent of the fleet). His suggestion was that fly-by-wire may be retrofitted into aircraft in a bid to improve their performance and delay the requirement for newly designed aircraft. It was actually put as more of an open question: “Would that give us the potential we need for each system (especially taking the weight out of the aircraft)?”
Unfortunately Crutchfield saw it more in terms of another round of expensive changes being suggested by an industrialist—perhaps that’s the default response at the moment? And don’t forget the U.S. Army is generally happy with its Apaches and Chinooks—and Maurer’s UH-60Ms.
But the debate fired up into a good one—it was just a shame that more on the panel didn’t weigh in during this rare public opportunity to state their case.