Army Secretary Mark Esper on Friday acknowledged resistance from lawmakers and the industrial base on programmatic cuts included in the service’s fiscal year 2020 budget request, telling reporters that specific pushback has focused on halting CH-47 Chinook Block II upgrades.

Esper, during a discussion at the Atlantic Council, reiterated the Army is asking its rotorcraft industry base to begin thinking of future heavy vertical lift solutions that will be better suited to “survive against robust air defenses” in a potential future fight.

A CH-47F Block I Chinook helicopter with 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade maneuvers to pick up an M119A3 howitzer during sling load operations on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

“As expected, we’ve seen some resistance. As many of you know, canceling a program is often harder than starting a new one. Those impacted start to voice parochial concerns and they solicit the support of members of Congress,” Esper said during his remarks.

The Army’s FY ’20 budget request detailed plans to cut or reduce 186 programs, including the Chinook Block II upgrades, to find $33 billion that will be shifted to fully fund development of future weapon systems over the next five years.

Esper said there’s been bipartisan support for the Army’s reasoning for the programmatic changes while noting that lawmakers have expressed concerns about the industrial base impact, telling reporters following his remarks the only specific system that’s been brought up is the CH-47 Chinook.

“The only one that’s come up has been the CH-47, frankly. But we’ll see what happens in the different budget marks,” Esper told reporters. “Generally, people get it. There will always be some who want to hold on or think they have a better case to make, and we just need to work through that. It takes time. Again, change is hard.”

The budget request details plans to only purchase Block II upgrades in FY ’20 and for FY  ’21 and beyond the service would only look to procure the SOCOM variants. Original plans for the CH-47 included upgrading the entire fleet of 542 Chinooks to the Block II configuration.

Gen. James McConville, the Army vice chief, was pressed during a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing on the potential supply chain impact of delaying Chinook upgrades (Defense Daily, May 9).

During his discussion, Esper added that with the Army committed to its planned changes the service will need industry to begin focusing on future heavy vertical lift solutions, adding that a potential optional could include a new Chinook configuration.

“We do know we need an aircraft in the future that can fight, win and survive against robust air defenses, something that has sufficient speed, range and payload. Is it the Chinook? I don’t know. Is it a Block II or a Block IV, V or VI? I don’t know,” Esper said. “But we do have a robust rotorcraft industry base and my challenge to them is to go out and start thinking about what future heavy vertical lift looks like. It’s not going to happen anytime soon, but I’m trying to tell them where we’re going. We’re trying to be very clear so folks know where to put their brain power within their companies to start thinking about this, so they can get ahead of us in terms of where we need to be.”

Esper said the Army will focus on meeting with industry to inform partners of future programmatic opportunities as the service shifts funds to new development projects.

“In some cases, it’s argued that the Army’s priorities are simply misguided. They say we are making a tactical error, that they’re program is what is needed to win the next war. I appreciate all that advice, I really do,” Esper said. “At some point in the future, every single system we use today will become obsolete. While the bias for defense companies is toward upgrading existing programs, the best way to build resilience into our industrial base is by adapting to the needs of the future and meeting us there.”

Major programs that also received cuts or reductions include the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, upgrades to Bradley fighting vehicles, and curtailing the buy of Black Hawk helicopters.