Army Aviation leaders gathered on Fort Rucker Feb. 2-5 to chart the course for the Branch’s future. The annual Aviation Senior Leaders Forum allows more than 150 Aviation commanders, command sergeants major, senior warrants and command chief warrant officers to interface and weigh in on key issues.
Key themes for this year’s event included Aviation in the current fight, maintaining Aviation’s asymmetric advantage over adversaries and maintaining leader overmatch.
Maj. Gen. Michael D. Lundy, commanding general at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, in his update on the state of the Branch said the priority is investing in leaders.
“It’s all about our Soldiers and leaders. That’s the first and last thing you ought to think about as a commander, command sergeant major, or command chief warrant officer: what did you do today to develop your leaders? We need agile and adaptive leaders…. That’s you spending time with them, making sure they’re ready to deal with the complexities of the world outside the cockpit,” Lundy said.
Lundy explained the purpose for Army’s Aviation Restructure Initiative, which involves a reorganization of the branch, is a smarter response to budget cuts that pre-date sequestration, than the across-the-board “salami slice” that would have taken away five Aviation brigades, including modernized airframes.
“There’s a lot of emotion, but it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Lundy emphasized the ARI is about modernization.
“We’ve got to make sure we have a modernized force that’s organized to meet the combatant commander’s demand. That demand signal is pretty daunting as we move over the next five years. To do that, we’ve got to be able to get our Soldiers the best equipment,” he said.
Lundy said ARI allows for “head space” for new engines on legacy aircraft, improvements to help aircraft survive threats that are emerging, and the ability to fly and fight in degraded visual environments, including inclement weather.
With Aviation slated to lose three active brigades, and reduce from 37 down to 20 attack battalions, the future will require quick rotations to meet the demand for Aviation. Pulling Apaches from the Guard and placing them in the active component, which is only one aspect of ARI, means the ability to meet the increasing operational requirements, Lundy said.
“If we don’t do that, and we have to buy more Apaches, every modernization program we have in our Branch will be impacted,” Lundy said.
Also on the horizon are changes to Aviation doctrine, an emphasis on home station training and changes in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems community, which includes fielding Gray Eagle and Shadow systems, a greater emphasis on manned-unmanned teaming training, and relooking unmanned aeroscout training.
Gen. David G. Perkins, commanding general of the Army Training and Doctrine Command, emphasized remaining relevant in the future where unified land operations and winning in a complex world is the focus.
Perkins said the Army focuses on capability to win, in a profession built on trust and designed to handle complexity.
“The Army is the iron fist of our nation. Our call is to win in an unknown, unknowable, constantly changing world,” Perkins said.
Continuing the leader development theme was Lt. Gen. Robert B. Brown, commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, who focused on developing leaders who thrive in uncertainty and chaos, and also a panel of leader overmatch experts headed up by Lundy.
Simon Sinek, author of “Leaders Eat Last,” who joined via video conference, spoke about creating an environment for trust to thrive and the importance of leaders investing in their teams.
Other topics included current Aviation operations in Europe, the Pacific, west Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Maj. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, deputy commanding general for U.S. Army Europe, explained the “Strong Europe” concept of improving interoperability and partnerships with other nations, which hinges on relationships. Maj. Gen. Charles A. Flynn, commander of 25th Infantry Division, who gave an update on Aviation activity in the Pacific, emphasized the need to have forces that can move quickly.
Brig. Gen. Frank W. Tate, deputy commanding general (Support), 101st Airborne Division, provided an update on the Ebola mission via video teleconference from west Africa where the 101st has provided speed, flexibility and confidence.
Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, commanding general of 1st Infantry Division, provided a classified briefing on Iraq, and Brig. Gen. Douglas M. Gabram, deputy commanding general (Support) for 1st Cavalry Div., who just returned from Afghanistan, gave an update on the changing nature of the mission there.
Maj. Gen. James Richardson, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command, gave an update on sustainment; and Brig. Gen. Bob Marion, director, Program Executive Office for Aviation, discussed acquisition priorities, including Improved Turbine Engine Program, Chinook Block 2 and the AH-64E model.
For Col. Kenneth A. Hawley, commander of 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, the event was an opportunity to learn and collaborate.
“This is just a phenomenal opportunity to hear what the state of the Branch is, hear what our senior leaders are doing, but also to link in with my fellow commanders to see what we’re not doing, what we are doing, to make sure we’re all on the same sheet of music , seeing if they’re dealing with the same problems we are, and coming up with solutions as we move forward,” Hawley said.