Army Reserve Commander Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley agrees with the Army’s controversial plan to transfer all AH-64 Apache gunships to the active component and that utility helicopters are better suited to the National Guard’s domestic mission.

As the primary provider of technical enablers for the Army, the Reserve needs helicopters like the UH-60 Black Hawk and Ch-47 Chinook that can move people and cargo, instead of attack helicopters like the Apache, Talley told reporters today at a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington, D.C. The Army’s Aviation Restructure Initiative (ARI) would take all of the Guard’s Apaches and transfer them to active service combat aviation brigades in return for hand-me-down Black Hawks.

UH-60 Black Hawk Photo: Sikorsky
UH-60 Black Hawk
Photo: Sikorsky

The same should be true of the National Guard, he said, specifying that he is not authorized to speak for the Guard. Although the Guard has served as a strategic combat reserve for the Army over more than a decade of war, its primary mission is a federal force in readiness under the command of adjutants general that report to state governors. In the Guard’s role as a domestic peace-keeping and disaster-relief force, rotorcraft capable of lifting heavy loads would seem a more appropriate fit than armed attack helicopters, he said.

“When I talk to governors and I talk to first responders…they say what we need in the states is what you’ve got, Jeff. We need combat support, we need combat service support, helicopters with lift,” he said. “They [National Guard] believe they need to retain their Apaches to best serve the governors. The Army says ‘We hear you, but we’re the Army. We’re the point of the spear. We need the Apaches to defend the nation, so you need to cough up the Apaches. In exchange, we’ll give you lift helicopters, which we think might be more useful as you provide reinforcements to first responders in your states.’”

Under the current plan, the Army would receive 192 Apaches and provide 111 UH-60 Black Hawks to the Guard in return. The active component would also cut three of its 13 combat aviation brigades. As planned, the transition should be completed by 2019.

U.K. Army Air Coprs Apache Attack Helicopter Photo: U.K. MoD
U.K. Army Air Coprs Apache Attack Helicopter
Photo: U.K. MoD

The ARI was initiated under Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, who retires Aug. 14. Gen. Mark Milley, his confirmed successor, said during his confirmation hearing that he would support the ARI, pending the outcome of the National Commission on the Future of the Army (NCFA). The NCFA is, among other force-structure issues, assessing 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 is focused on a lot of things, but everybody knows that what teed up the commission is probably the initial concern that some parts of the Guard had regarding the regular Army and what they call the aviation restructure initiative,” Talley said.

Talley guessed the plan as originally pitched would ultimately stand, “but there probably needs to be more dialogue, discussion, with the Guard to make sure they get the capabilities that they feel they need to stay relevant as a very important part of our force.”

Milley said the issue is not one of fairness, but of readiness in the active component, which also plans to retire its entire fleet of OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters. Rather than purchase a new platform to fill the scout role, the service will team Apaches with unmanned aircraft to perform armed reconnaissance missions.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to remember, we work for the Army,” Talley said. “If the chief says I need the Apaches for the Army, it’s not an illegal order; it’s not an unethical order. If I pitch my plan and he says we still need to do it, Roger that, sir.”