Transfers of AH-64 Apache helicopters will continue under the Army’s current aviation restructure initiative (ARI) while a panel of one-star generals mulls the more than 60 recommendations put forth by the National Commission on the Future of the Army (NCFA).
The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) calls for the transfer of 24 Apaches from National Guard units to the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Drum this summer, specifically between July and August.
That plan is not altered by the fiscal year 2017 spending plan pitched by the Army, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel B. Allyn told the House Armed Services Committee on Friday. The Army is offloading its legacy OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed reconnaissance helicopters and transferring older model H-60 Black Hawks medium-lift helicopters to reserve component units as a hedge against deep cuts to aviation modernization, Allyn said.
“We will execute those transfers on time and on schedule,” Allyn said. “The divestiture of our oldest airframes has continued on schedule and enabled us to take very constrained resources in our aviation modernization program and ensure that they are going into our most modern, most capable aircraft. It is vital that we do that.”
ARI came about as a plan to save a total of $12 billion by transferring Apaches from National Guard to active duty units where they would assume the armed-scout role currently performed by the OH-58D. That aging airframe would be retired and the Guard would be repaid with Black Hawks that some Army officials argued were better suited to the Guard’s peacetime domestic and disaster relief mission.
All OH-58Ds would be retired and UH-72A Lakotas become the primary aircraft for initial rotary wing training under ARI.
The NCFA was tasked with assessing, among other force-structure issues, whether the ARI should be implemented as designed or should be altered in some way to preserve the relative capabilities of the active and reserve components.
The commission ultimately offered its own solution that would keep 72 Apaches in four Guard aviation battalions. The 20 active battalions would each have 24 aircraft while the four Guard battalions would be equipped with 18 helicopters, but would borrow Apaches before deploying.
“We are very appreciative of the 63 recommendations that address…specific issues and areas of focus for the future of our Army,” Allyn said Friday. Going further, Allyn said the report was “very detailed” and “contained an incredible amount of analysis and assessment.”
The NCFA report and the Army’s 2017 budget request were released within weeks of each other, so the commission did not know how much money the Army would be working with and the service accountants could not factor the recommendations into their spending plan.
A team of brigadier generals from the active, reserve and National Guard are currently reviewing the NCFA report’s suggestions. It should be noted, Allyn said, that the NCFA’s 63 recommendations do not come with funding or specific plans on how to pay for their implementation. The commission’s aviation solution, for instance, requires a one-time outlay of about $420 million to remanufacture 24 Apache helicopters from D models to E models and inflates annual operating costs of aviation components.
The assessment of the one-star panel will presented to the secretary of the Army and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley “in the very near future,” Allyn said.
“Suffice to say, there were no resources provided for these recommendations and many of them are very high-dollar in the billions,” Allyn said. “We are analyzing both within our program and with additional dollars where we will need help to achieve the end state that has been prescribed.”
Allyn said the aviation issues addressed in the report have been prioritized above all else because it is the costliest issue and therefore has long-term implications on aviation modernization. In the meantime, the Army is barreling ahead with the elements of ARI it is authorized to implement.
“We will continue to divest our old airframes as prescribed by ARI. We will continue to ensure that all of our combat aviation brigades are as capable and modern as possible,” he said. “In the near term, the retention of Apaches in the National Guard, absent additional funding, will slow our modernization program for Black Hawks and Apaches. There is no other way internal to our program to fund it.”