Rotorcraft Modernization Efforts Back on Track, Officials Tell US Congress

Rotorcraft Modernization Efforts Back on Track, Officials Tell US Congress 18 Mar, 16, Source: US DoD

Rotorcraft modernization, severely affected by budget cuts, is just now getting back on track, Army and Air Force officials told a House panel yesterday.

Army Lt. Gen. Michael E. Williamson, the military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, told the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on tactical air and land forces that a high level of operations, combined with fiscal challenges, contributed to a substantial reduction in Army aviation funding.

Funding for Army aviation programs dropped $2 billion from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2017, the general said. The service also took a further $531 million reduction as a result of the fiscal 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act.

“The immediate result is the procurement of fewer Black Hawks, Apaches and Chinooks,” Williamson said.

Flying Modernized Aircraft

However, he said, the Army studied the situation and proposed the Aviation Restructuring Initiative.  The service was able to push savings into the field and fly its most modernized aircraft “while developing and fielding the right technologies to improve mobility, lethality, survivability and mission command,” Williamson said.

The Army continues to study the report of the National Commission on the Future of the Army for its impact on modernization and procurement, the general said, and is moving forward to address known capability gaps in Army aviation, but at a much slower pace, Williamson said. The fiscal year 2017 budget request includes several critical efforts for next-generation rotary wing capabilities, he said, which include the advanced threat reduction system, degraded visual environment mitigation and joint multirole technology demonstrator.

In the fixed-wing world, a replacement for C-12 and C-26 aircraft is projected to be selected and begin fielding in fiscal year 2018, he said.

“In the field of modernization, we are focused on improved the Apache, Chinook and Black Hawk helicopter fleets, as well as saving money for the American taxpayer, by pursuing a multiyear contract in fiscal 2017 for the Apache,” Williamson said. “We will award the ninth multiyear contract for [the] Black Hawk and the second for [the] Chinook in fiscal 2017.”

The Army also is investing in an improved turbine engine for the Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, he said. This will meet worldwide demand for operations in high-altitude areas and in hot conditions, he added. The Army is also refurbishing and modernizing its remotely piloted vehicle fleet, Williamson said.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., the military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, stressed the services’ collaboration on science and technology in rotorcraft modernization. “They are great teammates, and we must continue that work to be successful,” he said.

Balancing Readiness, Modernization

Helicopters are critical to the Air Force, Bunch said. “Our rotary-wing fleet has been and continues to be heavily engaged,” he said. “They have conducted operations across the spectrum, and we are committed to modernizing and recapitalizing our fleet as we balance readiness and modernization in this budget.”

The Budget Control Act of 2011 limited resources to the service rotorcraft program, Bunch said. “While we’re grateful for the additional resources the Bipartisan Budget Act provides, we need your support in the form of stable and predictable budgets for the future,” he said.

In his written statement, Bunch said the Air Force is looking to maintain its current search-and-rescue capability of HH-60G helicopters until the new combat rescue helicopter enters the force.

The Air Force also is modernizing its fleet of venerable UH-1N “Huey” helicopters, he said.

Bunch said the Air Force employs V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for special operations missions, noting that the service is requesting funds to maintain its current fleet of 46 Ospreys and to add five more.

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