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Monday, February 1, 2010

Rotorcraft Report: Army Seeks Expanded Aviation Brigades

By Richard Whittle

Military | Attack

The U.S. Army, gearing up to support the surge of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, is reorganizing its active duty Combat Aviation Brigades to create a 12th CAB, and may request fiscal 2011 funding for a 13th. The expansion aims to reduce the strain on CABs of repeated deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, service leaders told the Association of the United States Army’s annual aviation symposium Jan. 6–7.

“You’re on a constant treadmill in turning those brigades around,” said Maj. Gen. James Barclay, commanding general of the Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Ala. In addition to its current 11 active duty CABs, the Army has eight such units in the Reserve and National Guard. The Army has seven CABs overseas at any given time and one attached to the U.S. Northern Command, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo. Its goal is to give active duty CABs two years at home and reserve brigades four years for every year deployed. Currently, the 11 active duty CABs are spending only 12 to 15 months at home between deployments, Barclay said. “We’re trying to shift those timelines to meet the demand going into Afghanistan,” he added.

Lt. Gen. James Thurman (pictured above), deputy chief of staff for operations, said the new CAB was being created from existing forces and would be designated the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade in honor of the Vietnam War-era 16th Aviation Group. “While all aircraft approved to establish the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade are already in the force, the Army must add approximately 700 soldiers to the force to stand up the assault helicopter battalion and aviation support battalion,” Thurman said.

Where the 16th CAB will be based is still being decided. After his AUSA speech, Thurman confirmed to reporters that the Army has been looking at creating a 13th active duty CAB. As this issue of Rotor & Wing went to press, the Army was still seeking approval from Defense Secretary Robert Gates to fund the 2,700 troops and 120 helicopters needed for that unit. Pentagon insiders expected Gates to okay the expansion. Thurman also said the Army was expanding its medical evacuation companies from 12 to 15 UH-60L helicopters each and had added nine medevac companies to reserve units. The first 15-helicopter medevac company will go to Afghanistan this spring, he said. “We’ve got to get our (wounded) men and women off the battlefield—that’s non-negotiable,” Thurman added.

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