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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Heard in the Hallways: Who’ll Fight for U.S. Army Aviation Now?

U.S. Army aviation faces tough times ahead, and must face them without key proven leaders. The branch has prevailed in tough slogging, engaged as it has been in an intense level of combat operations in southwest Asia and in the global war on terror since 2001. Those battles will continue, but will be joined by ones of a different — and nearly as dangerous kind. The branch must fight for survival in the bureaucratic arenas of Washington.

Army aviation has lived for the last several years on a dedicated stream of funding: the $14 billion plus freed up by the 2004 cancelation of the RAH-66 Comanche. A White House-approved plan set that amount aside for modernization of Army vertical-lift capability and led to the Bell Helicopter armed reconnaissance ARH-70A, the EADS North America utility UH-72A, and increased production and upgrades of Boeing’s AH-64D Apache and CH-47 Chinook and Sikorsky Aircraft’s UH-60, as well as new unmanned and fixed-wing platforms.

But that funding stream is coming to an end. Army aviation will have to fight to pay for its substantial sustainment and upgrade needs (given ongoing combat operations) against all other Army branches, as well as other military and national-security agencies and federal departments in what is widely expected to be a more stringent federal budget environment. It will have to undertake those fights without key advocates, Army insiders say.

Gen. Richard A. Cody, the first Army aviator to have served as Army vice chief of staff, is retiring from that position and the service this year. (Cody is shown above with Army Secretary Pete Geren.) He will be succeeded by Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, now the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, in running the Army’s day-to-day operations.

Maj. Gen. Virgil Packett, Army Aviation branch chief and the commanding general of the Army Aviation Warfighting Center and Fort Rucker, Ala., also is retiring within the year, these sources said, as is Brig. Gen. Stephen Mundt, director of Army Aviation. Their successors will help determine the fate of Army aviation for years to come.

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