Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Army Aviation’s ‘Four Horsemen’ on the Record
AUSA Army Aviation Briefing, 25 October 2010
One of the first subjects to be raised was the perceived requirement in the Army for a cargo UAS helicopter. BG Crutchfield stated that the primary task was to lay out the gaps in capability within Army aviation and to identify what was needed. Crosby added that there are ‘much potential that we see in UAS’ but that “there are zealots who think it is time to pull out of manned aviation—we are not there! What we are doing is going ahead with a comprehensive look and we have focused on RSTA [reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition] to date. We are doing manned and unmanned teaming and breaking a lot of ground.” He added that his technology team is monitoring what the U.S. Marine Corps was doing.
Regarding the future for the Joint Multi Role (JMR) helicopter, Crosby hinted that all variants were being looked at and that his team were “looking at our S&T tax dollars to facilitate the development of critical enablers.” He said that the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) was applicable both to today’s Apaches and Black Hawks and to the future JMR. “We see that as a critical enabler...but which variant do we go after first—those are the things we have to wrestle with at the moment.”
The fact that Army aviation was stretched also came up for debate. Crutchfield confirmed that the Combat Aviation Brigades were currently in a one year BOG(Boots on the Ground): dwell time cycle, but there was little slack down the line. “Right now we are maintaining a balance between five and a half Combat Aviation Brigades deployed at any time. We still have the second CAB in Korea, we still have a presence in U.S. SOUTHCOM as well as in Europe, and so if something happened we could muster a force together. But if we needed six or seven CABs at a steady state then we would have to look to OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) as we did last year and they directed that a 13th active component CAB was to be resourced into the force. That will help us get into reasonable dwell rates for our soldiers so that we can respond to any contingencies.”
There is currently much debate about optionally manned helicopters. Crosby said that the Army’s current vehicles were either manned or unmanned. But, he said, “a critical enabler would be to digitize the flight controls. We have done some digital automatic flight control systems for the Black Hawk and the Chinook which gives you an enhanced capability” but that there was nothing as fully digitized as had been planned for the Comanche. As he understood it, he said “the idea is that the specifics of a mission and the risks might be so high that you want to fly as an optionally manned / unmanned configuration. That is something that we know is technologically feasible and there are systems out there that are doing it today. For us to go back and retro fit into the existing platforms that we have—Apache, Black Hawk and Chinook—[would mean] we would need to digitize those flight controls to get that kind of responsiveness. We have no resources to do that as of today.”
Crosby did say that he saw the ‘potential value’ of such a system but asked whether it would be “more important than the current manned/unmanned that we are doing,” adding, “we have to keep in mind that whatever capability we are thinking of, the army has to be able to afford. And there is that space where sometimes affordability and capability don’t meet—you may not have enough resources to do all the ideas that you have.”
Because of the small BOG: dwell ratio, there have been concerns about the amount of time available to CABs to train before beginning their next operational deployment. Crutchfield was keen to ensure that everyone understood that the country had “the best trained aviation personnel that we have ever had. We have the most combat seasoned aviators ever.” He confirmed that there were issues in trying to push all of the training through fast enough but that “we are meeting those challenges like never before, through mobile training teams from Fort Rucker and other places. They go to the posts, camps and stations to help train and it is working out. It is not easy and it is expensive but it’s working.”
He also commented on the value of the Aviation Training Exercise (known as ATX) that trains command groups (Brigade level staff) in their operational planning and procedures at Fort Rucker pre-deployment. “It is probably the most valuable thing they can do as army aviators when taking their staffs downrange,” said Crutchfield. “The place they are going to is very distributed and we are going to tailor that organization to ensure that they are stretched and can operate in a distributed environment.”
Additional comments to Military Insider article, Rotor & Wing, December 2010
Continuing to support the warfighter on operations, said Crutchfield, was Army aviation’s highest priority. “Army aviation today is in some of the highest demand that we have seen in the last nine years of war. If you look at how we move troops, equipment and supplies around the battlefield today it is on the back of Army aviation. Because of that demand the branch is strong and well resourced and I do not see that changing.”
He said that although aviation was now extremely effective, it could still do more to increase efficiency. He said that the roll out of Condition Based Maintenance (CBM) being carried out across the fleet through PEO Crosby’s office was going to help ‘drive down the O&S [operation & support] cost which is still a big dollar value.”
But Crutchfield was not complacent over current and future resources and strongly made the point that as his branch researches and plans its ongoing procurement strategy, it must take great care not to duplicate any existing capabilities. He added: “(we need) to make sure that what we ask for to fill a gap—the army can afford.”
In any gathering involving the leadership of Army aviation, the Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) program will always be raised as an issue. Crosby, the head of the Program Executive Office, said that the right way to evaluate the requirement was to look ‘objectively’ at manned / unmanned teaming. “I believe that the preliminary results have come out in favour of manned reconnaissance at least for the future as we see it,” he stated.
He reinforced the earlier point made by Crutchfield about any selected platform being ‘affordable’ and filling a defined gap in capability. He acknowledged that in providing ‘band aid’ solutions to the Kiowa Warrior fleet including the Cockpit and Sensor Upgrade Programme (CASUP), the Army was in fact managing the aircraft’s obsolescence. “Part of that effort means that we have not bought any replacement aircraft for Kiowa war loses.” He added that when the decision was taken to terminate both the Boeing/Sikorsky Comanche and Bell Textron’s Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH), there were sound reasons for doing so.
“I happened to be on the task force that made the recommendation to terminate the Comanche program. I was also the test officer when we did first flight—that was the most amazing helicopter that we have ever developed—but with a lot of issues. The Army made a tough decision to cut and take those resources across our fleet that (by then was) at war. We took a lot of risk in a lot of areas for so long that it was time to let it go. The cancellation of the ARH was a similar decision. It was costing more than we programmed and it was my people’s job to manage the decision. We were paying too much.
While the research into what form the AAS will eventually take, Crosby said that the plan to reconfigure Kiowa Warrior OH-58 Alphas and Charlies into the Kiowa CDS5 (Control and Display System) configuration and then into the CASUP was seen as the best interim method of ‘reducing the strain on the squadrons that are out there [on operation] today.”
The question of whether there was duplication across Army and Air Force unmanned aerial system fleets was discussed, and whether the issue was being worked on. Crutchfield pointed out that the Joint Unmanned System Centre of Excellence at Creech Air Force base had been given the task. He admitted that areas of duplication in capability did exist, but went on to say that similar systems could also be complimentary across the spectrum of operations: “...there are layers or missions to use their UAS in a certain way. The Army uses certain platforms in a different way to the Air Force. It comes down to what level of warfare are you going to use the platforms for.”
Crosby supported with viewpoint: “We like to think not of duplication, but complementary systems. UAS is the growth industry right now. If everyone is thinking alike then nobody is thinking... and we are going to work out where the cross patterns are, where the niches are and where we interfere with each other. That is going to take time. It’s not a smooth transition and there will be a little head-butting going on, but Gen Crutchfield is talking about getting out to test whether (the systems are) truly duplication or complementary. It may appear that there is duplication today but we are working hard to make sure we are complimentary.”
The Army’s requirement for fixed-wing support, especially in the operational theatre of Afghanistan, drilled down to the decision to transfer the C-27J program to the US Air Force. Currently the US Army uses some contract aircraft to help keep supplies moving in Afghanistan.
As a recent ‘field’ commander of a Combat Aviation Brigade in Afghanistan, Crutchfield confirmed that fixed wing aircraft were a valuable addition to the task of moving volumes of supplies around such a challenging geographic country. He highlighted the lack of a mature and widespread road infrastructure and, even when that was possible, the toughness of the terrain. To avoid a situation arising where demand outstripped supply, additional aerial lift was necessary: “if that is the case you have to come up with alternatives, and that means contract air. I say that as a Brigade Commander who has been there.”
He went on to say that while progress continued to be made towards acquiring the C-27J capability, the Air Force had already provided two C-130s “...and are working towards getting more of aircraft in there. When the C-27Js come out they will fill that gap.”
The US Army/Air Force order now stands at 29 aircraft following the decision in June this year to add a further eight aircraft to the 21 originally ordered in 2007.