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Monday, April 1, 2013

Future Vertical Lift: A New Hope in Challenging Times

When the U.S. Army Aviation community met early in the new year, frugality and the need for platform change seemed to be the stick/carrot message to industry.

By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief/Consultant

With the threat of sequestration in the air, a question mark against the numbers of military that would attend, and a gloomy presence by an industry reluctant to take part in a gathering that has seemingly got progressively smaller both in exhibitors and visitors, the annual winter AUSA ILW Aviation went ahead in January 2013 at National Harbor, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C.

But speakers there were, although more from industry and fewer from the military. LTG Bill Phillips, Principal Military Deputy, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), was among those in uniform. As everyone feared (knew already), he confirmed that defense spending is decreasing and contrasted spending in FY11 which he showed at 4.7 percent of GNP, to the projected spend in FY17, which he set at 2.9 percent GDP. This was compared against a 5.4 percent GDP spent during the 1991 Gulf War, 6.1 percent during the Cold War (1985) and 9.8 percent during the Vietnam War (1968).

But, he said, the demand for aviation continues in spite of the budgetary issues and while preparing for the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan through to 2015. The fiscal reality is that there will be less money, so that modernizing the force for the future will require a certain amount of balancing.

One item of encouraging news was the multi-year contract savings. He showed that the first multi-year Boeing CH-47F Chinook contract (FY2008-12) had resulted in $449 million in savings, while the second tranche of multi-year buying (FY2013-17) would result in $810 million in “cost avoidance.” The UH-60M Black Hawk’s multi-year cost avoidance (2012-16) would also achieve a figure of $1.16 billion, he added.

Phillips gave an update of the impressive figures that keep notching up higher and higher regarding the use of the U.S. Army Aviation fleet.

These encompassed the period between Feb. 1, 2003 and Nov. 15, 2012. The total Army Aviation flight hours recorded during this time was over 5.6 million hours, divided between the two operational theaters with 3.7 million hours flown during Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn/Kuwait, while 1.9 million hours was flown during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Phillips included in his brief comments about the importance of Future Vertical Lift (FVL) and the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) as an example or how costs and maintenance spending will be reduced in future fleets.

Maj. Gen. Kevin Mangum, the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker last year—replacing Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield in July 2012—took delegates forward into the need for FVL, which had to have not only the attributes of increase speed, range and payload, but also commonality of parts topped off by the ability to operate at altitude.

He then took these attributes and explained why they were relevant. Bear in mind that this is now an Army thinking beyond the last decade’s worth of asymmetric operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is starting to think “big complex operations” once again. Keep in mind the phrase now being used frequently by the Department of Defense (DoD): America’s pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region.

Speed, he said, was going to be necessary over extended distances, particularly if as in Afghanistan, there would be a poor existing infrastructure. A greater dispersal of forces had also to be considered, together with an increase in longer-range sustainment. That extra speed would support distributed operation over larger areas, as well as increase responsiveness and survivability.

Greater payload is always valuable, but in the future it will be needed to keep a nine-man squad together, each weighing an average of 335 lbs. fully loaded (according to the Maneuver Center of Excellence), together with the helicopter crew. The Army also needed its 9,000-lb. M-777 gun to be transportable.

Commonality has its own self-evident savings spread over logistics, maintenance, training, ongoing platform development and interchangeable systems. In short, operational effectiveness would increase.

The operational requirement laid down for the Armed Aerial Scout, namely the ability to operate at 6,000 feet altitude and at a temperature of 95°F (6k/95), is carried forward on the basis that studies into the world’s geographical regions show that performance of around 4k/95 leaves helicopters unable to operate 24/7 for around 66 days. At 6k/95 this drops to only around five or six days. The experience of certain helicopters being unable to operate comprehensively during the Afghan summer—something that also was experienced in by some types in Iraq—has made this virtually non-negotiable.

Mangum then progressed to the subject of self-deployment, particularly for a Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) moving from CONUS (contiguous United States) to PACOM (Pacific Command). At 230 knots, an FVL force could self-deploy in three days via steps in Hawaii, New Guinea and the Philippines. The reduced pressure on the U.S. Air Force and Navy would allow them to focus on the logistical build up and could save up to 41 C-17 flights.

Industry was represented by Boeing’s vice president of CH-47 programs Leanne Caret, Sikorsky’s president of Military Systems Sam Mehta, AgustaWestland North America CEO Scott Rettig, Bell Helicopter’s executive director Mike Miller and BG Steve Mundt, vice president with EADS North America, among others.

Related: Technology News

 

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