By Ann Roosevelt
Army aviation continues to be needed and requested in Afghanistan and Iraq and the top service aviator says he sees no change coming anytime soon.
"I don’t see any reduction in the need for combat aviation, in fact it’s increasing…commanders and soldiers want Army aviation, it’s such a combat multiplier…[and they’re] asking for more right now," Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody said in one of his last media roundtables in July before his scheduled August retirement.
In early July, Boeing [BA] held the official first flight of its prototype AH-64D Apache Block III that will be fielded in 2011. The next generation of the multi-role helicopter will be a leap forward, Cody said.
"Block III is coming to you and it will be in this fight," Cody said.
The Block III stems from the Army’s decision to cancel the Boeing-Sikorsky [UTX] RAH-66 Comanche helicopter and redirect funds into buying new helicopters and improving other aviation areas such as survivability and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) (Defense Daily, Feb. 24, 2004). At the time, the Army utilized the funds that would have bought 121 Comanche helicopters for some 1,400 new helicopters and upgrades and modernization, while restructuring the organization.
The 2004 Comanche restructuring, while reflecting numerous studies, also reflected aviation lessons learned Cody pointed out in a 1999 memo to then-incoming Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, and later testified to Congress after Task Force Hawk’s deployment to support NATO in Kosovo. At the time Cody was a brigadier general, brought in to be deputy Commanding General for Aviation Operations for Task Force Hawk. He was at that point assistant Division Commander, 4th Infantry Div. (Mechanized) at Ft. Hood, Texas.
Among lessons learned at that time were the need for better battle command capability and better coordination and communication with the then-new UAVs, a restructuring of aviation organization, and increased survivability capabilities.
Apache Block III has 90 percent of the required Comanche capabilities–except for a low radar cross-section, Cody said. However, Block III is more survivable, has better battle command and carries more than Comanche could. The helicopter also has more lift, a better drive train, and also is more reliable with new health monitoring systems.
Army aviation is fully committed in the war on terror, he said. The challenge remains to "sustain that level of fight and modernize–building the next better helicopter at the same time."
Another program stemming from the Comanche termination is not doing as well. The Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) produced by Bell Helicopter Textron [TXT] recently reported a Nunn-McCurdy breach exceeding its $6.2 billion budget estimate by more than 40 percent (Defense Daily, July 10).
Additionally, the House Appropriations defense panel cut the ARH budget request by $166 million, or 13 aircraft. Senate appropriators have yet to act.
"We need an Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter," Cody said, especially because it is to replace the aging OH-58D, also built by Bell. While resolving that issue is not in Cody’s bailiwick, he said there is a need for an ARH. "The critical requirement stands."
There are only 340 OH-58D helicopters, Cody said. A total of 520 helicopters are needed to fill the organizational depth in that area.
The global strategic picture shows a trend toward persistent conflict for the next two decades, he said. "We cannot repeat what history has taught us."
The aftermath of each conflict–World War 1, World War II and Desert Storm–has seen downsizing and reduced modernization, "robbing Peter to pay Paul," again, something Cody said after Task Force Hawk. Modernizing ground and aviation forces must continue to increase the capability across the joint force, he said.
Essentially and vitally, Army aviation is "less about the platform and more about connections, not stove-piping helicopters or battle command," Cody said.
Task Force Odin in Iraq is an example of aviation being proactive and utilizing the ability to move sensors and information around the battlefield and bring lethal solutions.
TF Odin links Army fixed wing aircraft with high tech sensors, UAVs, Apache helicopters and ground forces for a fast and efficient response to insurgent action.
This battalion’s success is to be replicated in Afghanistan.
When he retires, Cody said he’ll continue to be a "cheerleader" for Army aviation. But from what he sees, "young officers in this Army are not going to miss a beat when I leave on 4 August. There won’t even be a tremor in the force."