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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Army General Crosby’s View From the Foxhole

By Andrew Drwiega

The retirement of Maj. Gen. William ‘Tim’ Crosby means that we will no longer be treated to his folksy, home-spun tales that immediately got the attention of his audience and often warmed them to his words.

As a larger-than-life character he replaced the dapper civilian, Paul Bogosian, in December 2008. Crosby took up the job when defense still had plenty of money in the pot due to the cancellation of the Boeing/Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche (another reconnaissance helicopter that soared over budget).

Crosby got to see both sides of the Comanche saga – from helping to close the program to spending the money reaped from that closure: “I was on the task force that restructured Army Aviation … also an assistant program manager for test and evaluation on Comanche – that was the most amazing aircraft ever built. We took risk in so many areas for so long to keep it funded [and then] then made a tough decision to cancel.”

But the cancelation posed a serious problem for industry that was expecting an order to the tune of 1,200 helicopters. “We laid out a plan to take care of our needs and also to accommodate our industrial base because we understood the impact [of the decision] to our industrial partners,” recalled Crosby.

As he leaves Army Aviation is once again in a bind, but not of its own making. In fact its leadership is trying to plan its own way through the financial crisis. “My budget was hit substantially but what I needed to remember was that this budget is 25 percent of the Army budget which has equally been hit.”

He talked about the need to move acquisition projects to the left and to the right but the plan was reached. “It is easy to salami slice and say ‘look at what we can’t do,’ or we can take charge of the process and try to minimize the impact on the soldier in the field. We did it without bringing a bill to the Army. No decision has been made but that is our best guess on what we can do.”

Should that decision be made, Crosby is “confident that my replacement [Brig. Gen. Bob Marion] will execute that plan while setting his own priorities.” Crosby’s priorities as he stepped down were the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) to give Apaches and Black Hawks a more powerful engine and the L-digital program (the digitization of UH-60L Black Hawks cockpits to give them life extension and capability similar to the UH-60M). He believed that Army Aviation would find the funds to resource both programs for the near term.

But he is also aware of the long-term view. “We need to shape for 20-30 years out,” he advised. While he declared the Armed Aerial Scout mission to be “still hugely valid,” he believes the emotion over the potential passing of the Kiowa Warrior could be misplaced.

“Unfortunately, we sometimes tie a mission to a platform and we have been doing that mission a long time with the Kiowa Warrior. There was once an AoA [Analysis of Alternatives] that said the best scout was an Apache – but back then we couldn’t afford the Apache. Now we can’t afford to park Apaches, so that is the choice,” he explained.

His fear for the future is losing the rapport with the ground commanders gained from 12 years of fighting.

Crosby is worried that the reduction in flight hours, which is part of Army Aviation’s plan, will lead to a tendency for aviation units to focus and maintain individual training. The answer, he believes, lies in the switch to using more simulation to maintain individual proficiencies while taking those limited flight hours for collective training with the ground troops.

Finally, he hopes that the budgets about to be decided represent the low tide mark. “In acquisition, at some point when you stretch a production line so long, it is not cost effective to modernize at a particular rate. So we may have to restructure [Army Aviation] or realign if we have to make additional cuts. We have been able to preserve our multi years, but if you kill a multi-year you garner some immediate money but you will pay a lot more later on.”

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