Concerns Raised Over Aviation Readiness
Uncertain funding, coupled with the high demand for aviation assets for training and operations, has raised concerns about the Army’s ability to avoid mishaps and modernize its fleet while maintaining readiness.
In recent testimony before the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on readiness, Maj. Gen. William Gayler, commander of the Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, Ala., said while Army aviation mishaps are below the 10-year average, reduced flight hours, atrophied maintenance skills and unpredictable funding could combine to threaten that.
“Force structure reductions, increased global requirements, funding uncertainty and the requirement to train our forces to a higher level of readiness raise concerns about the overall future readiness of Army aviation,” Gayler said, explaining that there is a direct link between readiness and modernization, which under the current fiscal environment can only take place incrementally.
“To incrementally modernize our fleet, for example our AH-64 Apaches, we have to take them out of operational units to induct them into a remanufacture line to improve that airframe. That impacts readiness because we’re taking aircraft from operational units on which they should be training,” Gayler said.
Gayler told the panel that resources for the current counterinsurgency fight are adequate at the platoon level, but “to fight and win in the increasingly complex environment against near-peer enemy aviation units would need to be at a higher level of proficiency at echelons above that.”
The Army’s shortfall of pilots, he said in written testimony, is being handled by retaining an increased number of senior aviation warrant officers, 25 percent of whom are eligible for retirement. There is also an effort to increase accessions from 375 Regular Army aviation warrant officers in fiscal 2017 to 475 warrants annually over the next three years. Training throughput is increasing with more institutional capacity and a retention incentives program is in place for pilots nearing the end of their six-year active-duty obligation and for retirement-eligible warrants.