Fort Rucker brought together representatives from industry and capability developers from the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence at The Landing here Aug. 10-11, to foster forward thinking about the Aviation branch’s future.
The “Aviation Industry Day” event provided representatives from more than 30 vendors a chance to hear directly from the Aviation requirements experts through informative speaker sessions and question-and-answer opportunities.
Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, USAACE and Fort Rucker commanding general, thanked attendees for participating at a critical time for Aviation.
“We can’t do what we need to do as a nation without teaming very closely with industry. It is very important for us to have candid dialogue with you, and for you to understand where we have challenges,” Gayler said.
In a concept-based and doctrinally-driven Army, a challenge for Aviation is a lengthy acquisition cycle for Aviation systems and platforms that lags behind the rate of technological innovation.
“Right about the time we think we’ve got it right, we haven’t even started initial rate production yet and it’s already obsolete,” Gayler said.
“We’ve got to close that gap to give more survivability, more lethality, and greater capability as reach to our Aviation forces and to combatant commanders,” he said.
Gayler said with the large scale of the Army’s helicopter fleet, the fielding process could take 40 years to fully complete.
“We cannot get hemmed up in multibillion dollar programs that field obsolescence,” Gayler said.
The bottom line is getting capabilities that provide options to the combatant commander sooner.
“The combatant commander needs that option, our Soldiers on the ground deserve it, and it’s how we’ve got to start thinking about it.”
Without a budget, Army Aviation is lacking the resourcing it needs to “get healthy,” Gayler said.
“In our Congress we still need to pass budgets, we still need to appropriate money for the military and we still need to have it in a predictable manner. That does not appear to be what’s on the horizon. When you look at the growing delta right now between our capability and our capacity, we’re not getting healthy fast enough, in fact we’re getting worse,” he said.
Gayler said the Aviation portfolio has lost 37 percent of its buying power just since 2012.
“Aviation forces today are eighty-eight percent committed, so there’s very little room [to invest in] modernization because we’re spending money on readiness, and we have emerging threats,” Gayler said.
Understanding true cost is paramount going forward, he added.
Gayler said air-ground operations are inherently necessary, regardless of the type of threat.
“Aviation will fight. We just have to give our Soldiers the best opportunity to succeed when they fight. That’s our challenge,” he said.
Col. Tom von Eschenbach, director of the Capability Development and Integration Directorate here, said USAACE is nested with Training and Doctrine Command’s overarching mission to design, acquire, build and improve the Army.
Army Aviation is an enduring capability to “find things, kill things, and move things,” and Aviation’s core competencies enable combined arms maneuver and serve as a critical part of the air-ground team, he said.
“Chinook Block Two and [the Improved Turbine Engine Program] are two of the most important programs we’ve got in the near term. Those two things will keep our platforms and our capability relevant now. We know we have to invest in those now,” von Eschenbach said.
He asked for industry’s help with some “tweaking” to the lethality strategy. He also said smart decisions must be made regarding Aircraft Survivability Equipment.
“We need things fast because the enemy is continuing to adapt,” he added.
Modernization priorities for Aviation also include Future Vertical Lift and Future Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
Ellis Golson, director of the Concepts, Experiments and Analysis Directorate for USAACE, spoke about the operating environment, including changes in the concept of war.
“You’ve heard about Multi-Domain Battle. Essentially you have land, maritime, air, cyber and space—five different domains. All of them are contested,” Golson said. “Contested does not mean denied, it means we’re going to have to work through it.”
Much effort has been made to deny the U.S. access into areas, and one of the contributing factors is “we can’t get there quick enough,” he said.
“We’ve had the luxury of operating without threat from the air. We can no longer say that, either from manned assets or from unmanned assets,” Golson said.
The two-day event also included panel sessions with experts across the Aviation enterprise. Topics included the future force development strategy, and increasing Aviation’s reach, protection and lethality.
The event’s aim was an attempt at transparency in the interest of providing combatant commanders with the options they need, Gayler said.
“We’re not holding our cards so close to our chest that you don’t know what we’re thinking. I’m telling you what we’re thinking,” he said. “Every time you show a capability I’m seeing dollar signs, and I’m looking at other programs of the 63 inside of our portfolio that will be the bill payer, but we do need you, probably more now than ever.”
Pictured above: Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, speaks to a packed crowd of industry representatives and Army personnel from across the Aviation enterprise during the opening session of the Aviation Industry Day event at The Landing Aug. 10. (U.S. Army photo by Kelly Morris)