Army Aviation Must Balance Near-, Long-Term Modernization, Official Says
“You don't want to buy too much near-term readiness at the expense of the modernization programs that you're dealing with in the long term," Gen. Robert Cone, TRADOC commander, said in a Jan. 10 speech that laid out the aviation program’s future challenges. But "we cannot accept the level of risk that we've accepted previously in terms of near-term readiness."
If the Army decides to prioritize long-term modernization programs, this may bode ill for a possible competition for a replacement to Bell Helicopter’s OH-58 Kiowa Warrior. A new armed aerial scout helicopter would fill the gap between the 40-year-old Kiowa and a vision called Future Vertical Lift, which will seek to develop fleets of all new attack, lift and scout helicopters by 2030.
The Army needs a capable scout helicopter, Cone said. However, “the question is, how much can we invest in that platform without taking away from the future?"
Officials are currently weighing their options regarding whether to fund a new platform or upgrade the Kiowa. TRADOC officials recently met with Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd Austin, who wanted more information on the potential cost as well as how it would fit into future Army modernization efforts, Cone said. "We're back at the drawing board answering a few more questions in regard to that."
Cone identified other future needs, including Future Vertical Lift, extending the range, endurance and altitude of Apache and Blackhawk helicopters, and further development of manned/unmanned teaming technology.
"I think we've just touched on the capability of manned/unmanned teaming, and we've got to pursue that,” he said, noting that the tactic could also help long-term cost savings.
TRADOC foresees a larger role for the service’s aviation program as soldiers withdraw from Afghanistan and the Defense Department pivots to the Asia-Pacific region.
"A lot of the inherent risks that we are assuming with a smaller Army, in fact can be mitigated by an investment in aviation as we go to the future,” Cone said.
TRADOC officials believe the Army’s next war will take place in a contested environment, where near-peer forces will utilize anti-access/area denial tactics and cyber-attacks to keep aircraft from getting to the fight.
“It's our job to react to that in regard to a variety of cyber-shaping activities and hardening activities to basically try to operate in that environment,” Cone said. There are "variety of hardening operations that are going to have to take place in terms of how we operate in the frequencies [and] our ability to change frequencies.”
Retaining young, talented soldiers in the Army’s aviation force will be a challenge during an austere fiscal period, Cone added.
“These folks who have been in the Army for the last 10 years, they know all about battle, readiness and combat capability, he said. “You start telling them that they can't train, or they're not going to have equipment that is functional, they're done."
Photo Credit: Defense Department