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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Timely Reminder for Budget Brokers: Looking Ahead to FY16

By Andrew Drwiega

Last month, the Department of Defense (DoD) released its Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) Presidential Budget request which came in at $534.3 billion, divided accordingly: Army $126.5 billion; Navy $161 billion; and Air Force $153.9 billion. Procurement is allocated a 20 percent share of the budget at $107.7 billion.

Among the objectives is the rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region, although security and stability in Europe and the Middle East are priorities as well. Sustaining a global approach to countering violent extremists is naturally included, while not forgetting a need to invest in technology with a slice of partnership reinvigoration thrown in for good measure.

Under sequestration, this is an ambitious if not impossible plan, as many of challenges are rapidly changing and covering them all adequately is likely to be a very difficult. The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seemed to come out of left field; Putin seems intent on taking Russia back to a Cold War standing (UK airspace is being challenged by Russian military aircraft at levels not seen the 1990s), and China is building fake islands to support its outrageous maritime claims (particularly the nine dotted line in the South China Sea).

With the United Kingdom’s own Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) also due to be published in the first half of the year, readers of either document should consider there feasibility in the context of deep and sustained defense cuts.

So what does the DoD budget mean to the rotorcraft community?

Firstly, the FY16 budget proposal once again endorses and supports the Army leadership’s Aviation Restructuring Initiative (ARI), which hinges on the work being completed by 2019. Congress, in its wisdom (sic) and against the wishes of the Army leadership, have initiated a commission to examine the ARI which will now limit the speed of change, thereby placing the plan in jeopardy. The end result could mean even bigger cuts for the Reserve who are deeply unhappy about losing their Apache AH-64s to the Active component under ARI.

But $4.5 billion will be spent on another element of the ARI, that of acquiring more Airbus Helicopter UH-72 Lakotas as the training aircraft for Fort Rucker. In terms of the DoD’s total rotorcraft acquisition plan, the proposed picture will look like this:

Spinning on the spot

Another landmark event in February was Sikorsky’s announcement that it had ground run its S-97 Raider (its next generation coaxial reconnaissance helicopter). Landmark in two ways in fact, as it is 100 percent industry funded and does not rely on the DoD’s S&T dollars.

The firing up of the first S-97 prototypes for its initial ground run phase will obliquely add focus to the Boeing/Sikorsky Joint Multi Role proposal, the SB>1 Defiant, also coaxial. This trial leads into further ground testing to verify “the propulsion system, drive train, rotor control system and pilot-vehicle interface,” according to Sikorsky. It follows-on from a line of other tests including those relating to software qualification, component fatigue and the gearbox. A second prototype is also entering final assembly at Sikorsky’s development center. This progress serves as a timely reminder to those in charge of the DoD’s S&T to ring fence the JMR development budget.

Related: Military News

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