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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Rotorcraft Report: Op Tempo, UAV Growth Concerns U.S. Army Leaders

U.S. Army officials stressed two themes at the Assn. of the United States Army’s annual aviation symposium in Washington Jan. 17-19. First, they said, Army helicopters of all kinds are logging record flying hours in hot and sandy conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq, wearing themselves out quickly. For that reason, Army leaders and program managers are pressing companies building new rotorcraft and remanufacturing older models to deliver on time.

Second, the wars have ignited an explosion in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by the military, and growth in UAV use will continue. That complicates airspace management and raises issues between the Army and other services over how to coordinate their many manned and unmanned aircraft.

"We’ve got a challenge again in the airspace command and control business, talking to our brothers in the Air Force or the Marine Corps or the Navy," Maj. Gen. Virgil Packett, commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Warfighting Center and Fort Rucker, Ala., told the conference. "We have some huge, huge challenges.

"I could probably show you a couple of pictures of a Raven (shown above right) running into the side of a helicopter — not a pretty sight," Packett said. "We’ve got to get better than that."

Keith Roberson, the Army’s acting project manager for utility helicopters, said the service is scrambling to recapitalize 1970s-vintage UH-60A/A Black Hawks at Corpus Christi Army Depot, Texas as part of its effort to keep enough rotorcraft in theater.

Roberson and other officials emphasized the need for a rapid transition from the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and UH-1 Huey to the ARH and LUH, respectively. The older aircraft are rapidly reaching the end of their service life under the strenuous conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

Emphasizing the strain of the wars on equipment, Col. Theresa Barton, system manager for lift at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, said the Army’s CH-47 Chinooks "are flying almost five times as much as they fly in peacetime."

Boeing Rotorcraft Systems delivered to the Army 12 MH-47G and six CH-47F model Chinooks last year, said Col. Newman Shufflebarger, the Army’s cargo helicopter program manager, and is to produce 21 more -47Fs and six more -47Gs for the service this year. But the Army has 452 Chinooks and wants 489, he said.

Moreover, allies Australia, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands all "want Chinooks tomorrow," he added, but "there are no Chinooks available."

Packett said the use of UAVs by the Army is exploding. "We have a little over 4,000 aircraft in the system," he said, including almost 500 UAVs. "In the next couple of decades, that’s going to grow to over 4,500 manned systems and over 2,200, and almost 2,300, unmanned systems."

"There’s only more demand for Army aviation," Packett said. "There’s only more demand for unmanned aerial vehicles."

Col. Jeffrey T. Kappenman, systems manager for UAVs at the Training and Doctrine Command, said the Army already had trained more than 2,800 UAV operators.

Packett said UAVs are "a wonderful capability for that squad or that company or that battalion, but the fact of the matter is, we’ve got a saturated airspace already. It’s no longer big sky/little bullet. We’ve got a lot of moving pieces up there that we’ve got to come to grips with."

The furious operations tempo is true for UAVs, too. "Our UAVs are flying 10 to 12 times what we envisioned for a peacetime role," Kappenman said. — By Richard Whittle

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