Army Aviation Officials Defend Science and Technology Investments
“Army leadership, with [office of the secretary of defense] support, has held fast to keeping investment in science and technology. That's why it's so critical that we do the right things and we have industry [support] as we go along," said Mary Miller, deputy assistant secretary of research and technology, during a panel at the Association of the U.S. Army Aviation symposium and exposition.
"We’re in this kind of hiatus period. We're going to come out in about five years, and we need to be ready to push things into position to become very solid programs of record,” she said.
Science and technology funds are the hardest to defend in a fiscally constrained environment because humans seek instant gratification, said Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, the outgoing program executive officer for aviation.
"We've got to make sure that we balance our investments, so we don't cut off our S&T, or we'll end up 10 years down the road with nothing to show for it," Crosby said.
“What we can ill afford to do is to have our great industry partners pursue something with their S&T dollars that do not align with our 30-year plan,” he added.
Although Crosby is in his last days as Army aviation’s acquisition head, he said he believes the Improved Turbine Engine Program, or ITEP, and the L-digital cockpit for UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters should be the service’s top two priority programs. “I think when we lay this out, we'll be able to appropriately resource those to get them on a better timeline,” he said.
ITEP is scheduled to transition from a science and technology initiative into a program of record this year. The new engines would double the range of Apaches and Black Hawks while consuming 25 percent less fuel.
During the S&T program, General Electric and the Advanced Turbine Engine Co. — a joint venture between Pratt & Whitney and Honeywell — developed engines to test out some of the riskier technologies.
The Army’s initial goal was to retain two vendors in the competition into a Milestone C decision in 2023, after which low-rate initial production would start. Realistically, the service will probably only be able to support two vendors through Milestone B, Crosby said.
"There are some dollar scenarios that may compel us to make a decision prior to that, so then we would look for ways within the enterprise to mitigate that risk of doing it earlier," he said.
Miller said further down the road, the Army plans on developing a series of rotorcraft — called future vertical lift — that includes light, medium, heavy and ultra-heavy versions. Both Army and Pentagon leaders are supportive of that investment in that program and its S&T precursor, the joint multi-role demonstrator.
The requirements for future vertical lift are not set in stone, but officials have indicated they want rotorcraft that can fly at 230-knot speeds and in higher altitudes and hotter speeds than current helicopter designs. Initial operating capability is scheduled for 2035, at earliest.
"We have waited and waited and waited” to buy new aircraft, Miller said. "Now we're getting to a point where we can't just extend the platforms we have if we want to have this extended range and this incredibly increased speed."
Four companies are currently designing demonstrator aircraft for the JMR program. The Army is set to tap two companies this year to build operational prototypes for flight-testing in 2017.
One audience member asked whether Army officials foresee a knife fight for funding between Future Vertical Lift and other aircraft that will need S&T investment during the same timeframe.
"How can we maintain credibility with our industry partners if we allow that to happen?" Crosby asked. "Industry has backed us on this program ... and then every time we get into a tough decision, we abandon our plan?"
The future vertical lift program is a good plan to meet future requirements, he said. “I think we need to stick to our guns."
Army acquisition leaders need to have a hand in moving successful technologies into a program of record, said Lt. Gen. William Phillips, military deputy director of the Army Acquisition Corps.
"The best [program managers] that we have out there working programs are linked back with the S&T community,” he said. “They know what our scientists and our engineers are working on. They're looking at experimentation, the testing of those systems, and then eventually that PM is going to want to transition that technology into an aviation platform."