The Army’s future aviation balancing act

The Army’s future aviation balancing act

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s rare to hear Army acquisition’s top leadership talk about the helicopter fleet, even though aviation eats up about 22 percent of the service’s research, development and acquisition dollars, with a 2012 budget of $7.76 billion.

Most of the time, acquisition officials talk about delivering other modernization priorities, including the network, the Ground Combat Vehicle and a Humvee replacement. Lt. Gen. Bill Phillips, military deputy to the Army’s acquisition executive, said Wednesday at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual forum there’s a reason for that.

“The Army aviation portfolio is healthy. If I were to talk to you about other portfolios that exist like tactical wheeled vehicles, combat vehicles or missile defense — it would look a little bit different,” he said.


To be sure, Phillips, a career pilot, said the service must maintain its investments in its aviation fleet. Army helicopters have flown 3.6 million hours in Iraq and another 1.5 million hours in Afghanistan. To keep those helicopters in the air, the service must set aside money for the reset and potential recapitalization of those aircraft, he said.

Aviation leaders are already looking into whether the service needs to conduct a major overhaul on a fleet that has flown five to six times more over the past ten years than they ever expected.

“PEO Aviation is going through a series of studies by aircraft type as to what has been the impact of ten years of war and the aircraft flying in the very austere environment, and the challenges of being in that environment,” Phillips said. “So when we bring the aircraft back, do we need to do a bit more than reset? Do we need to do a recap? We have to get that right.”

The Army must get it right because it doesn’t plan to field the replacements for much of its fleet until 2030, with the Future Vertical Lift program. The Army has set out a plan to build an aircraft that will revolutionize almost everything, replacing helicopters at every level from the AH-6 Little Bird light attack helicopters to the CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopters. Engineers want to build a vertical lift aircraft that flies higher and faster than any comparable helicopter.

Army aviation officials have set Future Vertical Lift as their aim point 18 years out, even though the military is struggling to keep new weapons programs afloat. Phillips said that even though it may become painful, the Army must remain committed to the next generation vertical lift aircraft.

“I think the Army has to do this. I don’t think it can afford not to do it. We must invest in the future of rotorcraft,” he said.

Nonetheless, aviation officials have grumbled about the science and technology investment dollars the Army has so far siphoned off for them.

Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, the Program Executive Officer, U.S. Army Aviation, called the $113 million set aside in 2012 for aviation S&T “budget dust.” If the Army wants to build the Future Vertical Lift, it must drastically increase the funding, he said.

Phillips said he recognized Crosby’s concerns and said he expects the service to spend more in future years.

“As we look at the budget … we have to make sure there is a level of sustainment for S&T funding to push technology, to look at the Future Vertical Lift capabilities with all the right communities to make sure we are doing all of the appropriate studies, we are looking at risk reduction, and having an aircraft that supports [Aviation Branch Chief Maj. Gen. Anthony] Crutchfield’s vision of 2030,” Phillips said.

And Army aviation will not be devoid of modernization between now and 2030. For example, Phillips said he is focused on delivering stronger, more fuel efficient engines to the Army’s Black Hawk and Apache fleets.

The Improved Turbine Engine Program promises to build an engine that is 25 percent more fuel efficient with a 65 percent increase in power-to-weight ratio than the T700-GE-701C/D engines that power the Apache and Black Hawk.

“I have supported ITEP for many years. I think it’s critically important,” he said.

Another program Phillips wants to see delivered is the Armed Aerial Scout, but not at any cost. In the same way the service did with the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program, Phillips said the Army must sit down and have a long talk and see what type of helicopter  industry can deliver soon, and at what price.

Many Pentagon-watchers marked JLTV for the acquisition graveyard as costs spiraled above $500,000 per truck. To save the program, Army leaders traded a long list of requirements to cut the cost in half and subtract 15 months from the development phase. (Of course, the Army and Marine Corps still must try to preserve as much of that savings as possible when they actually contract and build the vehicles.)

For its new armed scout, Army plans to hold a flight test this June to test the helicopters that competitors could submit. Crosby has said he wants to see these aircraft in the air, not on Power Point slides.

“Feedback from industry is so critical for the Armed Aerial Scout going forward,” Phillips said. “It’s industry who builds these systems and they know if it meets certain requirements. If we listen to industry they can tell us about the art of the possible.”

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Knowing the way the brass works (actualy it doesnt) the generals was impressed with the Air Force commercial showing a verticle lift jumbo jet landing on a bridge to rescue people and now he thinks we really need those ASAP (if they can do it for a commercial it’s gotta be real right?) A jet powered jumbo Osprey to replace helos is on the R&D wish list for the brass.

Maj. Gen. William T. Crosby director of the Army’s Program Executive Office Aviation said, “Some people are saying it’s going to be rotary-wing. We don’t know that. It may be a tilt-rotor of some sort that we’re going to go to. But based on the wind-tunnel studies and the demonstrators that we’ve done and the input of this team, including the consortium, we hope to have a deliverable this summer of a specification that will guide us toward what the next step will be that we’re going after.” http://​www​.military​.com/​n​e​w​s​/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​/​a​r​m​y​-​n​e​w​s​/ve

No one knows what it’s going to be. Some folks let their bias fill in for facts.

“The Army aviation portfolio is healthy.” The Army just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the CH47 Chinook by finding the 1st Chinook from 1962. Where did they find it? In a museum? In a scrap yard? On a giant pole at the front gate of an Army base? All good guesses, but wrong.

The original CH47 to join the Army is actually still in service. A 50 year old helicopter? I was in some shitty old HMMWVs, but none that were 50 years old.

Goes to show how some designs just work! That being said, fifty years is probably pushing it!

They are sorta working on that direct-lift Jumbo. It’s called the DuPont DP-2. I ought to look up how that one is doing…it’s been a while.

The whole Armed Areal Scout is a pip dream some general dreamed up. The head of the Army Aviation PEO told that Kiowa Worriers will be updated and no replacement could survive Budget cuts this year and there aren’t planning for the BIG one coming next year. Since President Obama will beat BIG SPENDING Mitt Romney this November and the House is likely to remain Republican Sequestration is a reality. Overall the JVLP may be revolutionary but isn’t need to be on the budget till the Army wants it 20 years from now the financial burden then needs to goto industry NOT the Army. Overall NIE and JLTV may be the only modernization programs to become reality for real troops. GCV isn’t need and is wasting money since Bradly and Striker and M-113 can do APC jobs for the decaded just fine and since most adversaries use even older worn out BMPs and Chinese knock offs there no real advantage against the Bradley. Armed Areal Scout is not flying when the DoD is on its last legs trying to defend the other three major programs that are existing there wont be billions to buy new Choppers in the next decade. Despite some posters here and the author praying this program will revolutionize the Army aviation world, they fail to take note that Army chiefs say this probably wont go past a air show and when sequestration hits GCV and ICC may be history next year. yes the ney Sayers will hate me but the financial reality says this is how it might happen the fact is the bungling in the Mid East and Army blunder financially has made this happen and it will only get worse.

If we had true leaders in Congress in both parties who care about the nation rather than reelection this would be happening.

What’s with you and your thing against GCV and ICC? Now I don’t like the bloated mess of a vehicle GCV appears to have become, but developing a legitimate successor to the Bradley would be wise. Spare Bradley hulls could be used to replace ancient M113s in everything from their use as mortar carriers to ambulances.

Regarding ICC, worn out M4 carbines and other small arms are constantly replaced by orders of new ones. From what I’ve read, there wouldn’t be much of a price difference if the Army was to indeed order a different design. The M4 would be phased out gradually and not suddenly.

Unless a new caliber is selected (which simply won’t happen) there isn’t going to be many improvements over the M4, just some rather minor stuff. If the Army just wants an improved variant of the M4 (think Colt ACC or ACC-M), they probably have to do the ICC program due to the politics involved.

A fellow pilot friend told me Enstroms are a maintenance nightmare.

If The Brass is so inspired by Hollywood’s ideas,
maybe they should get the movie special effects giants to pony up the blueprints for those helicopter gunships from Avatar
and the APC– carrying Marine Dropship from Aliens.

As funny as it sounds — They did come up with helmet coms and cammeras and tried to come up with the multi caliber caseless assault rifle so that commanders could sit in a bunker and watch the war from safety just like in Aliens. They even spent billions on flying trash cans to move troops in the field like the old Dick Tracy cartoons and are still spending money on jet packs to this day. And the camelion body suit is still being played with so our guys can be like predators along with camelion armor for vehicles which there is already videos out . Brass is moved by gadgets big time like trying to put GPS guidance on everything that goes boom.

The 47 platform is way overlooked because of its age — SPECOPS had some that were converted to gunships in house and the brass through a fit when they found out. With it’s speed and altitude and range I personaly think that if it was steamlined and lightened up a bit to carry a suad for stealth insertions and weaponized like a Hind using Apache fire control and weapons (x2 to 3) that it would be a really good asset to our troops and training/maintenance would be mute plus could be done with min R&D (only for the streamlining and wing pods).

It cost on average $2100.00 per M4 to be refurbished (parts — labor– transportation) I know because we do a couple hundres a month. Every M4 could be replaced with a newer weapon for less, Problem is as you say, ALL POLITICS. Because sole sourcing is not allowed we have to have a competition wich takes time and money. The rules need to be changed so that if we identify something better at a cost savings that we can get it even if only one company in the world currently makes it. Those that say the 5.56 is good enough most likely have not had to put anyone down in a close quarter fire fight. That is why we are currently training troops to put multiple in the body to daze them followed by head shots to put them down, even with this training it puts our guys at risk and is why a heavier round is needed.

CONTINUED FROM ABOVE: Right now the 7mm is being looked at because we can go to it using std 7.62mm cases (7mm08) and 5.56mm case (7mm TCU) The issue with the TCU is effective knock down is 200 to 250 yds in the body which is sufficient to me but some brass stil want that 600 yd kill shot not realizing you are not gonna get it anyhow unless you put a MK4 scope on every weapon and train all troops to use them. Both of these calibers can be used with monor impact on current production (only case mouths need to be changed and 7mm bullet molds, take less than a week to convert) as far as the weapons the only change would be a barel swap on everything which takes place anyways.

You’d be better off just buying a Hind then. The CH-47 is too big of a target to stand there and trade shots with a ground force, especially if all you’re doing is trying to insert a squad sized unit.

But the drawback to a hind is that it cant hover and is too slow. If you are going to insert a squad size unit it is normaly covertly, if they come under fire they can get high and out of range withthe suqad then re engage with cannons and rockets. Even the mighty hind can be taken down by shoulder fired rockets currently avail which is why Russia stopped putting so much into thier flying tank designs, Most comming out of kazan city are more conventional now days, close copies of ours.

Are you confusing the Vietnam era test of the ACH47 by the Field Evaluation Detachment (Special) (CH-47) (Provisional) as a SPECOPS initiative?

TMB has a point. If a helo is taking so much fire it can’t land it’s doubtful it’s going to risk a crew and squad to take out that heavily armed enemy not to mention the mission is no longer covert. Creating a BIG helo to move troops AND fight seems to be a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. The current system of helos dedicated to cover a lift helo allows both aircraft to focus on their assigned task.

NO sir I’m talking about helos we had used in central america in the 80’s during cartel wars, that also had racks to roll daisy cutters or napalm out of the back from high altitude and wipe out dope fields and labs. As far as the rest of your comment you are correct and I realize any helo would move away from heavy fire and all covertness would be lost. I did originaly say a streamlined and lightend up version of the 47 and carrying 2 to 3 times the firepower of a longbow apache so you would not need multiple helos, not just another modified 47. I know its grasping for something that wont happen but could be useful in irregular warfare or battlefield search and rescue.

I’m tracking the limitations of the Hind. My point was that it’s folly to use a helicopter as big as a CH-4 as a gunship. For it’s faults, the Hind was at least built as a squad-carrying gunship. Now that I think about it, the Soviets stopped putting troops in it once the AA threat became to great. A helicopter that is engaging a target that has the ability to shoot back is NOT going to hover. Suppressing such a target while dropping troops from the same platform is asking for trouble. If you’re inserting troops and all hell breaks loose, then you want a no-kidding gunship to cover you, not a converted troop transport.

Might as well keep using the Apache since it was actually built to get shot at.

well yeah — The apache and cobras will be around for a long time. What I’m obviously doing a bad job of is stating they could redesign and combine current helo designs into effective platforms at lower cost than starting all over again. Just as they did when the cobra came from the huey. A redesigned ( reduce size, weight and cargo area) 47 or 46 could take the place of 3 attack helos and one transport.

I’m still gonna disagree with you on that proposal. Our helicopters specialize in their duties. Attack helicopters are built to kill things from personnel to tanks and even small buildings and survive getting hit. Our transports can carry lots of people and equipment. When you try to combine them, you trade off aspects that make each one good at what they do. A gunship that carries people will be like you described the Hind — slow. It’ll also become a bigger target with more to lose. A transport helicopter full of guns and missiles won’t be able to carry as much cargo weight because of the weapons. The designers will try to achieve a middle ground that makes nobody happy and you end up with a flying EFV with the same results.

The closest you can really get to what you’re looking for would be the UH-60. It is a general purpose transport that can carry a heavily equipped squad and/or mount guns and rockets, but you’d probably only see that combination in the special ops community since you’d rarely use those aspects together. I’m picturing Blackhawk Down where the operators were dumped off immediately before the shooting starts and the helicopters stick around for support. I can’t see any other scenario where that would work though.

“Future Vertical Lift” that does everything?? Do these people love to waste billions of dollars and spend decades in futile development, and make our troops go to war with 70’s era platforms?? Holy cow.…

The Hind is a great helo but even the Russians have identified the weakness of combining the roles of troop and attack helos. (Weakness being you aren;t doing the attack mission when you are dropping/picking up troops). They have since developed attack specific helicopters. We briefly looked at that approach with the S67.

Not everything the Russians do is a good idea. We incorporated weapons firing ports into the first Bradleys because BMPs had them. Then we realized you can’t hit squat and trees have a habit of bending barrels. They were largely removed in follow on versions.

WHO are you refurbishing M4s for at $2100 a pop and a couple of hundred a month? There are a couple of contracts out that I know of but that doesn’t match anything I’ve even heard hinted at?

I think that is true of any helicopter.

How come were not replacing the M-4 with the XM8 or the FN SCAR

Don’t forget the guys who see the HUD elements on their kid’s video game and say “hey that’s a good idea, we should totally do that” (which is where Land Warrior came from.)

But they still insisted on putting a gun turret on the V-22.

BS flag. The land warrior program dates back to 1989 and was named such officially in ’94. That’s quite a bit before HUD on kids games.

Boomer, you out there? BS flag?

Nicky — because niether provide a huge leap in lethality, accuracy or reliability to justify the cost of buying a million plus.

They put a gun turret on a few of the V-22s. One gun does not make a gunship. Every helicopter in the inventory slings a couple machine guns on the doors for self defense. The V-22s belly gun is only useful for suppression during landing/takeoff.

There’s a competition right now looking for an M4 replacement.

TMB — familiar with it (I’m right outside benning and retired out of the Battle Lab). I predict NOTHING will change. The competition is primarily a CYA so folks don’t saying the _____ is” so superior to the M4”. It also serves to keep industry engaged. The Army isn’t going to change its rifle until something provides a substantial leap in performance. Something the _______ fanboys seem to forget has accompanied EVERY major rifle change for the last 100 years.

That was directed at Nicky. The Army has done a pretty good job shooting itself in the foot with the competition. Some of the competing companies have cutting edge and affordable designs, but the Army seems to want them to expose patented information up front and they withdrew.

True but consider what I said. The Army isn’t really looking for a replacement right now. Technology hasn’t made the leap yet.

I dont want it to be a transport and gunship, said from the start slim it dow and gun it up but be able to carry a squad (4 to 7 men). The 47 is faster than a lot of helos flying right now which was my initial point. Look at whats avail right here and now and use it as a baseline rather than starting from scratch. The cobra came from the huey — a high flying and fast gun ship can come from a 46/47 variant.

Right here — I work at a depot refurbishing gear for returning units including small arms. When you add in the Govt std of $46.00 and hour labor (nobody makes 46 an hour, that is just the std charge rate used) — plus parts and shipping it adds up fast (disassembly — repair — re finnish — reassemble — inspect/test — pack — transport) it adds up quickly, Just like converting the m24’s from 7.62 to 300 wm cost $2700.00 each even though it only requires a barrel and bolt change out (why we even bothered with that one I dont know sinse they are all being sold off) (remington got the contract on that one). What you said about the ARMY not really looking for a new rifle right now is pretty much true, The troops want one with knock down lethality but the brass doesnt want to spend the money even though they already are in reality. A number of rounds have been identified that we could move to efficiently using our current platforms and ammo mfg but we keep butting heads at the tables.

I hear you but I’m just not aware of the Army refurbishing hundreds a day worth of M4s. I know Crane has a gig for SOCOM. This must be something being kept from public scrutiny when a brand new M4 is less than a grand.

We reset all the gear coming back from overseas for the units including small arms, Also do a large number of MWO’s on small arms, if I said a day I appoligize we average a couple hundred a month. yeah CRANE does a lot of the SOCOM gear since they are under a diff budget and thier gear is different from std issue. Actual today cost for an m4 is around 1900, the 1000 was for a upper reciever and butstock kit (could also change them all to gas piston for same amount and get better reliability — cooling and barrel life double of the current direct impingment system, dont know why they dont????).

My bad, you said month not day. Not convinced direct impingement on M4s improves performance. That’s a whole new can of worms.

What’s your source for an M4 being $1900? According to http://​www​.defenseindustrydaily​.com/​C​o​l​t​-​M​4​-​D​ata–… “At the time of the final sole-source delivery order in December 2010, Colt’s price was just over $1,221 per fully-equipped carbine” That includes a BUIS and ARS (well over $200 in oarts alone). Still makes zero sense to refit an M4 if a new one is cheaper. Sounds like gov’t waste. Contract# W52H09-07-D-0425-BR02 might also point you in the right numbers direction.

That is what it cost when we have to replace a demilled weapon due to too much wear. The direct impingment is the gas tube currently used — it sucks plain and simple, never should had moved from pistons in the first place and why STONER came up with the modular AR18 a year later but it was to late by then. The H&K 416’s, FN’s and LWRC are all piston guns cost is about 2100 each last time I was involved with a govt purchase on them, definate improvement — dont have to drain gas tube prior to firing when exiting from water — shoots cleaner and barrel stays cooler,so barrel life is much longer — dont have to worryy about gas tube clogging up from copper shavings as bullet travels down the barrel.

Also I havent myself seen any colt uppers or repair parts com through yet, still going through a lot of the FNUSA , LWRC, and even still see some old SGW stuff. I’ll keep my eyes open to see what we get and price for a new colt contract weapon. I do see a number of colt lower recievers but I doubt we have had many 100% colt guns in quite a while. But as far as price you still have to add in the GSA 6% markup on thier end for handling and transportation that is where the ball starts rolling and contract prices go out the window.

“FN’s and LWRC are all piston guns cost is about 2100 each” Ah! That’s it! You are talking Navy Special Ops community. You originally said M4s. No wonder you are talking $2k plus.

Direct Impingement is NOT the gas tube currently used on the M4. You are confusing operating systems. Also don’t know what you are sating when you say we should have never moved away from pistons. We as a nation werenever using DI systems. I suspect your aren’t differentiating between the less than 10,000 man Navy Spec Ops community and the million plus Army or over 200k Marine Corps (e.g. they aren’t coming out of the water alot in Iraq and Afghanistan to warrant an extra grand per weapon equally an extra BILLION+ across that Army and Marines alone).

What you want and what we need/is working are two different things.

No sir — When I said we should had never moved from pistons I was reffering to the M1 garand and M14. Direct impingment is the gas tube system on the std M16/M4, SOCOM SPECOPS uses the H&K416 which is a gas piston gun. FN had the last big contract for M16/M4 prior to new contract in 2010, In the 80’s SGW was making almost all the repair parts for M16’s until the A2’s came online from Colt. While most of the lower recivers say COLT most of the upper recievers are from FNUSA and LWRC. LWRC also makes parts under contract for COLT _ FN _ H&K and others besides thier own versions (they also make parts for the 240 &249). I am retired NAVY but currently work at an ARMY depot after tiring of the arguments while working for ARMY weapons (most of the people there never even fired or owned a weapon let alone know what the troops need). Contracts prices are as delivered to the govt at first destination — they go up from there which is why the majority of the time we can get the parts much cheaper buying localy from a retailer, GSA is trying to do away with that option completely though so cost will most likely go up.

meant to say most of the A3 uppers are from FN and LWRC (only the lower recievers are left overs from colt).

AH! M1s/M14s! Now I understand what you were saying about getting away from pistons and you’re right on the DI point. My bad/confusion.

Still stand by cost points and have no problem with the M4s DI system. Much has been made of it to generate sales in other weapons.

If you mean to get more people wanting piston guns I agree 100%. A lot of the faults of the 16/M4 are in fact directly related to the gas tube, they get clogged up with unburned powder — dirt — and copper shavings causing the weapon to foul up or not cycle at all. Seen lots of guns brought in complaining about extractors and buffer springs or bad mags causing miss feedings but it was a clogged tube almost every time. In reality an M4 barrel will last over 100K rds as long as the rifling doesnt get fouled, the tube is why we do it at 5K (state side anyhow ) and on all returning weapons from deployment.

I am not a piston proponent for every rifle. The M4 doesn’t have a problem. Arms rooms have SOPs for getting their weapons inspected at organizational level during peacetime on a rotational basis. Unit leaders are responsible for their unit’s maintenance plan. Our societies typical knee jerk reaction is new tech and spending money. Weapon fanboys and vendors are always hawking the newest toy. The less we expect of leaders the less we’ll get.

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