The US army's plan to eliminate 700 aircraft from its active aviation units, among other changes, will save more than $12 billion in the long run, chief of staff Gen Raymond Odierno tells a Senate budgeting panel on 11 March.

In testimony before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defence, Odierno called the aviation restructuring initiative (ARI) one of the service’s “most important reforms” given the fiscal constraint under which it is being forced to live.

The plan, which calls for a mixture of divestiture and reassignment of attack, utility and scout helicopters, will ultimately cut cost by $12 billion, he says. It also will save another $1 billion annually due to reduced fleet size and operating cost of aging aircraft, he adds.

The plan will eliminate 700 aircraft and three combat aviation brigades from the army’s active component, while moving only 111 airframes from reserve units, Odierno says. Senators on the panel did not question Odierno or Army Secretary John McHugh about the ARI. It was mentioned only during Odierno’s opening remarks to the committee on 11 March

“Our current aviation structure is unaffordable,” Odierno testifies. “We simply cannot afford to maintain our current aviation structure and sustain modernisation while providing trained and ready aviation units across all three components.”

The ongoing ARI involves reducing aviation personnel by about 10,000 troops, divesting legacy Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters and a fleet of A- and C-models used as trainers. About 180 TH-67 Creek trainers will be sold as military surplus items, which has raised concerns about flooding the market with cheap aircraft.

Most controversial are plans to transfer Boeing AH-64 Apaches from the national guard and reserve to active units, which will give up Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks in return. The Apaches, teamed with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Gray Eagles, will absorb the armed aerial scout role from the divested Kiowas.

Congress in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act set limitations on the ARI and required a commission be empaneled to study its impacts. Odierno disagrees with the need for such oversight, but says the army will “fully support the commission as it examines and assesses the force structure and force-mix decisions the army has proposed”.