Aviation Chief Says Army Needs 'Revolutionary' Technology by 2030
The search for new technology to modernize Army helicopters must begin immediately so that replacement aircraft can be fielded before the current fleet reaches obsolescence, said Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, commander of the Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Ala.
“You cannot deny that resources are being reduced, that the Army, as we speak, is being reduced,” Crutchfield said at the Association of the United States Army Aviation Symposium Jan. 12. “But conflict in the world is not being reduced and I don’t see a time when we will use less Army aviation in the future.”
Most of the Army’s rotary-wing aircraft will be outdated by 2040, regardless of how many upgrades are bolted on or how much money is poured into existing platforms, Crutchfield said. There has to be "revolutionary change, not evolutionary change.”
For the foreseeable future, however, funding for new systems is expected to shrink. As a result, Army aviation will be “flying on instruments,” said AUSA President Gordon R. Sullivan.
“I have two words of advice for the future: ‘Steady, troops,’” he said.
Though the Iraq war has ended, Army aviators are still fighting in Afghanistan. How Army aviation will achieve a technological revolution will be outlined in a vision plan that should be published later this year.
Crutchfield offered few details about the plan, but said it will include sustaining a seasoned corps of pilots, identifying tactics and technologies that enemies can exploit and a plan for “rebuilding, retraining and redesigning for the future."
For decades, the Army has been incrementally upgrading and enhancing its airframes. It has been without a new helicopter design since the introduction in the 1980s of the Apache attack helicopter built by Boeing.
In November, the company rolled out the first Apache Block III aircraft, which sport composite rotor blades, new engines and other technologies that boost power and performance. Four of those have been delivered so far, with another two scheduled for delivery this month.
But Crutchfield would like to see advances beyond the Apache Block III, which will end its service life in 2040. Another model-series Apache is not what the Army needs, he said.
“We should not and cannot plan for an Apache Block IV,” Crutchfield said. Whatever aircraft results at or before the self-prescribed 2030 deadline, it “must not follow current norms,” he said.
“It has to be a totally new way forward,” he added.
The same goes for the Army’s other rotorcraft. The Apache is the youngest rotorcraft design in its fleet.
The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior will be outdated by 2025, and the CH-47F Chinook by 2035. The recently upgraded UH-60M Blackhawk will join the Apache in 2040.
Twice the Army has failed to find a suitable replacement for the Kiowa. Whatever path the Army heads down, he warned of past pitfalls.
“We cannot repeat the Comanche history ever again,” he said. “The Army can’t afford it.”
Going forward, the Army will have to work with industry to design and field new technologies, but the relationship may have to change, Crutchfield said.
“”We need to define what we need,” he said. “We need industry to stop telling us what we need and start listening to what we say we need.”
Those needs, as already expressed in the Army-led effort to find a future vertical-list technology, include faster, more maneuverable aircraft. Moreover, in an era of “reduced economies,” it will have to be affordable both up front and over its service life, Crutchfield said.
“It has to reduce the overall footprint of the aircraft by reducing overhead and using commonality of parts.”