The Army’s politically unpopular aviation restructure initiative (ARI) that would strip National Guard units of AH-64 Apache attacks helicopters met with more opposition Tuesday on Capitol Hill, where the House Armed Services Committee heard an impassioned condemnation of the plan.
Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.) testified before HASC that the ARI is “dangerous, shortsighted and will significantly harm our national security.” He was joined in opposition to the plan by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), a former Army aviation commander and Guardsman.
“ARI would leave the National Guard less combat ready at most and most importantly less able to provide operational depth,” Perry testified. He also highlighted that none of the $12 billion the Army hopes to save through ARI is derived from transferring Apaches. The savings are associated with divesting OH-58D Kiowa Warriors and other aircraft.
“The experience in the attack community is in the Guard,” Perry said. “It’s because of multiple deployments and the complexity of flying the Apache.”
Rothfus was a major proponent of creating the National Commission on the Future of the Army (NCFA), which was tasked among other things, with weighing the impacts of ARI and making a recommendation on how best to dole out the Army’s aviation assets among its three components.
The commission rejected ARI and proposed a compromise plan that would keep four battalions of Apaches, in the Guard, each with 18 aircraft. The commission report and the Army’s annual budget request came out too near each other for either to take heed of the other, so the Army has not adopted the NCFS’s recommendations and has plugged away at transferring Apaches to active duty unit under ARI. The Army was released from some restrictions on the transfers that were in place until the NCFA concluded its analysis.
HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said the commission’s recommendations would be closely considered as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is hammered out in coming weeks.
“They did what we asked them to do,” Thornberry said of the NCFA. “We will definitely consider those recommendations very carefully.”
Rothfus urged the committee to halt ARI transfers in the NDAA for fiscal 2017.
“The time has come,” he said. “We must put an end to ARI, implement the NCFA’s recommendation and retain a minimum of four Apache battalions in the National Guard.”
Opponents of the ARI are concerned that combat proficiency the Guard has gained during the last 13 years of war will be lost if its aviation units lose their Apaches, which will be replaced with UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters under the ARI plan.
Perry said moving Apaches to active units would drive a wedge between the components and cause friction in future operations.
“How can we be an Army of one when one [component] has and one does not?” Perry said.
Rothfus took the tack in attacking ARI, saying the plan is antithetical to the Army’s push to more closely integrate its active and reserve components.
“ARI represents a fundamental shift in the nature and role of the National Guard and runs counter to the preference of many members of Congress and their constituents,” he said.
“It will have devastating impacts on the National Guard, stripping it of its Apaches and ensuring that it will be less combat ready and less able to provide operational depth. It will also deprive our nation of an operational reserve for these aircraft, which is essential to the retention and management of talented aircrews.”
If the Guard were to retain four Apache battalions, the next question is where to station them and how to man them. Rothfus called for units that draw pilots and crews from multiple states where one state would maintain a battalion headquarters and two companies of aircraft. The other state would maintain one company and aircraft under his proposal, which he said would “maximize its ability to recruit and retain talented pilots from different regions of the United States.”
“Multistate units will also ensure that National Guard companies can regularly participate in training and maintenance with the regular Army, thereby advancing the Army’s objective of total-force integration,” Rothfus said.
Perry warned that if all combat aircraft were given over to the active component, in wartime, there would be no operational reserve.