Aviation commanders, command sergeants major and senior warrant officers from the active Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve gathered at Fort Rucker to hear from senior leaders and address challenges facing the Aviation branch during the annual Aviation Senior Leader Forum Jan. 29-31.
With an overall theme of “Army Aviation: Today’s Challenges, Tomorrow’s Opportunities,” the event focused on current and future operations, training and leader development, and included question and answer sessions.
The lineup of guest speakers represented multiple commands and centers, including Headquarters Department of the Army, Training and Doctrine Command, Forces Command, U.S. Army Europe, Combined Arms Center, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fires Center of Excellence, Aviation and Missile Command, 1st Army Division West, Special Operations Aviation Command, and Program Executive Office – Aviation.
Event host Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, welcomed attendees and encouraged participation.
“This is a huge investment of your time, and I appreciate all the command teams that are here, and certainly appreciate our retired general officers that are also here to provide some of their insights and experience. What’s important is the dialogue that takes place,” he said.
“Cohesion and consistency of focus and message is critical… to make sure we’re successful getting through some of the obstacles we’ve got to go through,” Gayler said.
During the Aviation branch update, Gayler explained the background behind issues currently facing the branch.
“We’ve got a lot of challenges out there. You need to understand the context of why we are where we are because some of you in this room in the very near future are going to be standing up here… trying to chart a path to recover from some of these challenges,” he said.
“Fiscal challenges of our nation have driven things that are significantly impacting the Army and all of the Department of Defense,” he said.
The lack of a budget, the Budget Control Act and years of operating under continuing resolutions resulted in changes to force structure and the Army Aviation Restructure Initiative, he said.
“The requirements today are much greater than they used to be. You know that, and you’re feeling the demand right now,” Gayler said.
“We need you to be preparing for large scale combat operations and training to a combined arms maneuver standard in your formations. That’s difficult to do when you’re 84 percent committed,” Gayler said.
Part of the fiscal reality includes having to remanufacture older airframes rather than purchase new E model Apaches the Army needs, which means training for a major combat operation with fewer aircraft.
“When the decision was made to retain those AH- 64s in the Guard, those 72 aircraft were the seed corn for the [remanufacture] line. So now there is no seed corn. That’s why if you are an Apache battalion in the field on active duty you have on average 21 Apaches of your 24 that you’re supposed to have on hand, because they’re feeding the reman line,” he said.
Personnel challenges include trying to “right the ship” after years of under-accession in the warrant officer population, and the need to fill a gap in experience. Incentivizing and retaining quality Aviators on active duty is a matter of national security, he said.
The battlefield of the future will include “lethalities we have not seen to date,” Gayler said.
“Training and Doctrine Command looks constantly to the future to understand that environment, and then to develop an Army … to operate there,” he said.
That includes survivability and protection, operating at greater distances, and advanced teaming capabilities, some of which fall outside the Aviation portfolio, that allow Soldiers to “see, sense, geolocate, share, target and destroy an enemy threat,” he said.
For flight school, a new student battlebook is in the works so standard operating procedures are already learned before Aviators arrive at their units. Adjustments to the program of instruction are underway to get students through flight school more quickly.
Gen. David G. Perkins, commanding general of Army Training and Doctrine Command, spoke about Future Force 2025, including a concept based, doctrine driven Army and achieving cross-domain synergy in Multi- Domain Battle.
“What we’re trying to do with Multi-Domain Battle is start off with a converged solution from the very beginning. You need to look at every problem as multi domain, and you need to have a construct for bringing in those other domains,” he said.
Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commanding general of Forces Command, spoke about balancing commitments and readiness, and the role of Aviation.
“The tempo on our force is off the chart. It’s not just aviation, it’s the entire army,” Abrams said.
Abrams said years of sustained combat in Iraq and Afghanistan proved the critical capability Army Aviation brings to the warfight. As the Army shifts its focus from counterinsurgency operations to counter potential near peer adversaries, Army Aviation must be a combat maneuver formation that can fight in multiple directions and maintain offensive tempo, he said.
This will require a renewed emphasis by air and ground units to prepare for this environment.
“We have to literally change how we think inside our community,” going forward, which includes combined arms rehearsals to synchronize with other elements of the combined arms team.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville joined the forum via video teleconference to speak about leader development and the future force.
“To a person, all the ground commanders want aviation. There’s not a commander that is not thinking incredibly highly of aviation units and aviation commanders and that’s really a tribute to all of you. You have a tremendous reputation out there,” he said.
McConville said budgetary authorizations are promises, and what is needed is appropriations, especially at a time when the Army is growing its end strength.
Lt. Gen. Michael D. Lundy, commanding general, Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, Kan., in his remarks said an integral part of retaining quality Soldiers in the Army is personal leadership.
Lundy cautioned against being “intellectually lazy” as an institution, and emphasized the importance of FM 3-0, the Army’s new operations manual, going forward.
“FM 3-0… this is what we’re going to do for the next ten years. You need to get familiar with it. What FM 3-0 does is links the tactical into the strategic,” he said.
During the event, Brig. Gen. David Francis, commanding general of the Army Combat Readiness Center, presented the “Broken Wing” award to (then- 1st Lt.) Charles C. Coverley, for his actions as an aviator in 1970 near Kitizigen, Germany following an inflight emergency and successful landing with no damage to the aircraft and no personal injury.
The long overdue award presentation received a standing ovation from more than 150 Aviation leaders.