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US commission urges tweaks to Army aviation restructure

A two-year-old US Army plan to restructure the aviation branch over the next five years while saving billions of dollars is overall a “well-crafted” approach, but should be tweaked, says the National Commission on the Future of the Army.

The commission’s report released on 28 January recommends that the army should buy 24 more remanufactured Boeing AH-64E Apaches while acquiring 60 fewer Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks.

The proposal would add $420 million to remanufacture AH-64D models to the AH-64E standard, but that cost can be fully offset by buying 60 fewer UH-60s and slowing the rate Black Hawk acquisition over the next five years, the commission says.

Congress chartered the commission to examine a two-year-old aviation restructuring initiative (ARI) and wider army organizational and personnel changes.

The army unveiled the ARI in 2014 as a means of coping with a planned 40% reduction in the aviation branch’s annual budget from 2012 to 2020.

The ARI recommended sweeping changes in the aviation branch’s helicopter inventory, including the retirement of the Bell Helicopter OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed scout fleet and the Bell Helicopter TH-67 Creek trainer. The former would be replaced by teaming AH-64Es with unmanned air systems, such as the AAI RQ-7 Shadow and the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc MQ-1C Gray Eagle. The TH-67s are being replaced by Airbus UH-72A Lakotas, a twin-engined type also used as a light utility helicopter in non-combat roles.

The commission’s report made no objection to those fleet changes, but instead focused on a more controversial proposals in the ARI. The army’s plan calls for transferring all of the national guard’s AH-64 units to the regular army. The national guard and reserve units would then receive all but 10 of the regular army’s battalions of Black Hawks.

Instead, the commission recommends that the national guard keep four battalions of AH-64Es ready as a surge force, leading to the requirement to purchase an additional 24 remanufactured Apaches. To offset that extra cost, the commission recommends reducing the number of UH-60s in the army’s 2019 fleet from 2,135 to 2,075, or a 3% overall reduction.

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