Army tackles aviation sourcing challenges

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

When Army National Guard units deploy overseas and take aviation assets with them, it sometimes leaves voids back home, but a National Guard official said CH-47 Chinooks expected to be fielded beginning this month may alleviate some of that concern.

When National Guard aircraft deploy, governors are concerned about their ability to respond to disasters, Col. Michael E. Bobeck, chief, Aviation and Safety Division, National Guard Bureau, said.

Bobeck and others in the Army’s aviation community spoke on a five-member panel, titled "Sourcing the Warfighter with Aviation Capabilities," Jan. 13, at the Association of the United States Army’s Institute of Land Warfare Army Aviation Symposium and Exposition at National Harbor, Md.

"Clearly they [governors] are concerned with the availability of aviation assets in their states," Bobeck said. "They believe that aviation is one of the top three things on their plate in [terms of] what they are looking for in the event that there is an emergency in the states."

More helicopters are on the way that may alleviate some of the stress the National Guard is feeling with aircraft numbers, Bobeck said.

"We don’t have all the CH-47s or UH-60s that we are supposed to have, yet," he said. "Those aircraft are cascading [in] as new aircraft are fielded. And, we are working very closely with the Army staff to bring aircraft into the force."

This month, he said, eight CH-47D Chinooks are coming into the guard from active units – as those units get new aircraft.

"That allows us to keep eight aircraft in country or in the U.S. for training and for domestic operations support," he said.

Bobeck said, for example, leaders from one state are concerned that their soon-to-deploy Chinook unit will leave them with only one aircraft in the state – one the guard needs to move to another state.

"I’ve been spending a little bit of time with one particular state. Their Chinook unit is deploying to theater," Bobeck said. "They have one left and they want to keep it. And, it’s going [to take] quite a bit of time explaining why we need to move that aircraft to another state, because they are getting ready to deploy in the next rotation."

Col. William Morris, director of Army aviation, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, said to source the warfighter with aviation capabilities, there are currently 20 combat aviation brigades (CAB) in the Army – 12 in the active component and eight in the reserve component.

"There is also one special operations aviation regiment with 3,850 rotary wing aircraft, 350 fixed wing [aircraft] and 1,400 unmanned aircraft systems.

At the current time, there are 75,000 aviation personnel in the Army. "That’s 7 percent of the Army," Morris said.

To meet the demands, "six CABs are deployed worldwide," he said. They are in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea. "And, the demand continues to go up."

He noted that some brigades are on their fifth or sixth tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Echoing Morris, Col. Randolph Rotte, Army aviation division chief, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8, Force Development, said, "The demand [for Army aircraft assets] is unsurpassed."

He said that there is a "fantastic investment in Army aviation.

"Twenty percent of Army equipping dollars," goes to Army aviation, and this "comes with a lot of challenges and a lot of responsibilities."

One challenge is how much do you invest in manned and/or unmanned aircraft, and "how sure of you of getting it right."

In these times of financial and budgetary problems, the director of aviation, intelligence, and electronic warfare systems, said, "We must create an agile system with the constraint of today."

Col. Thomas Todd III, who is in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, added, "The question is: ‘How do we do more with less?’"

"Soldiers want an agile system, and the soldier has the final word. So we better know what we are doing" when it comes to acquisition.

Addressing his comments to the industry representatives in attendance, he said, "We look to industry to give us new technologies. With our constrained resources we must partner with industry – we couldn’t do it without you."

As the Army’s aircraft are being used on the battlespace of Afghanistan and Iraq, dessert, mountainous urban terrains, "our aircraft are doing very, very well," Lt. Col. David George said.

George, the deputy chief, aviation and logistics, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-43, added, "Reset is very important. The aircraft must be disassembled then reassembled – then we get it back to the warfighter."

(Editors note: C. Todd Lopez contributed to this story.)