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Army aviation's 'bold proposal' to cut costs

Jan. 14, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
An Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter flies overhead on Feb 5 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
An Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter flies overhead on Feb 5 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht/Defense Department)
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Army leaders are pitching a nimbler, more flexible force in the face of budget cuts — one they insist can provide the same capability for less money.

Maj. Gen. Kevin Mangum, commander of the Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, Ala., outlined Tuesday what he called Army aviation’s “bold proposal” while speaking at the Association of the U.S. Army’s aviation conference in Arlington, Va.

“Our strategy is to pay our own bills, meet the end-strength [goals] placed upon us, and provide as much capability and reduce risk over the long haul — both operational risk and risk to our programs,” he said.

The plan was created with involvement from senior leaders in the Army aviation community, in response to the Army’s plans to shrink itself to 490,000 soldiers and 33 brigade combat teams.

The Army could also be forced to cut two or three combat aviation brigades — the active force currently has 13 — and in the process go from multiple CAB variants to a standardized CAB configuration. [Read more about this CAB configuration in the next edition of Army Times, out Monday.]

“We have to be lean, and a lot of people don’t like the word ‘lean,’ but there ain’t gonna be no fat in this Army,” Mangum said. “Regardless of the size, we have to be the best aviation force in the world. So lean can be fast and mean.”

Army would also restructure its aviation fleets, which includes divesting OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters and using AH-64 Apaches to meet the armed aerial scout mission. The Army would divest 898 legacy aircraft, the OH-58A, C and D models.

Cockpit and sensor upgrades for the OH-58D, Mangum said, would have cost $3.1 billion. A service life-extension program for the airframe would have cost more than $7 billion — “not a value proposition,” he said.

“Really, it would be putting new shoes on an old horse for $10 billion, and, oh, by the way, we don’t have that $10 billion,” Mangum said.

In addition, the TH-57 training helicopter at Fort Rucker would be replaced by the UH-72 Lakota.

Looking several years into the future, Mangum said he expects Army aviation to take a 40 percent cut to modernization and equipping, a 40 percent cut to depot repairs and reset, and a 25 percent cut in training.

The training cuts equate to 10.7 hours per crew, per month, in the active component, and just less than company-level collective proficiency. In the Reserve, that equates to six hours per crew, per month, which is crew-level proficiency.

Sequestration slashed $250 million from the post over the past year, limiting the number of flight training seats available. He said the Fort Rucker school’s load has changed, but not its standards.

Due to cuts, Mangum said the post is training 899 students in initial entry rotary-wing training this year, down from a peak of 1,250 roughly a year and half ago.

As budgets shrink, flight simulators will take a larger role in training, and be used to “maximum effect,” to compensate for the limited flight hours available, he said.

Mangum said an alternate proposal would have reduced modernized aircraft, retained costly older aircraft and required deeper force structure cuts.

“If we just left this up to the budgeteers, we would have been victims in this process,” he said. “We tried to seize the day and come up with a bold proposal.”

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