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Nation's budget affects future of aviation

February 15, 2012

By Ms Kari Hawkins ( Redstone)

Two of Redstone Arsenal's aviation leaders emphasized the need to move forward with aviation goals, adapting and changing to accommodate Army needs and budget constraints.

In separate presentations during the Joseph P. Cribbins Aviation Product Symposium hosted Feb. 8-9 by the Tennessee Valley Chapter of the Army Aviation Association of America, the Aviation and Missile Command's Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers and program executive officer for aviation Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby showed a united front in their commitment to modernize, upgrade and maintain the Army's aviation fleet while also finding ways to become more efficient.

"We want to continue to be the provider of choice if you have an issue with aviation maintenance or TMDE (test, measurement and diagnostic equipment)," Rogers said. "We are really getting after some of the supply chain inefficiencies in our materiel enterprise."

For Crosby, Army aviation will have to accept some risk as budget cuts are made.

"Aviation is going to be OK and why is that? Because aviation is the critical enabler over there (in Iraq and Afghanistan). Nothing moves without Army aviation," Crosby said.

"But the nation is in a lot of financial trouble. We will have to accept some risk in some areas. We have to sharpen our pencils and challenge ourselves to find ways to keep that credibility we've built with our infantrymen. If we don't keep that trust, we will lose our resources."
Twenty-two percent of the Army's budget goes to aviation.

"That tells you how committed our country and our Congress is to Army aviation, to resource us to that level," Crosby said.

The sustainment responsibility for aviation falls within AMCOM's responsibility but also includes the support of the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center and the Army Contracting Command, and the Program Executive Office for Aviation. AMCOM reports directly to the Army Materiel Command.

"We're all supporting the war fighter. We have one focus -- never let the war fighter down," Rogers said, adding that mission is more challenging with the reduction of funding.

The major general said AMCOM has had initiatives going on for nearly two years to "ensure we have the most bang for the buck" for aviation systems "as we all come together and pull together in this success story."

In all new contracts, AMCOM will be seeking to gain efficiencies and synergies, he said.

"As the money starts drying up, we will have to figure out how to optimize and work well with our business partnerships," Rogers said, adding the key themes for the future are less cost, better quality and continual improvement.

The efficiencies gained through AMCOM's depots -- aviation at Corpus Christi, Texas, and missiles at Letterkenny, Pa. -- are "hallmarks on how to do things," he said.

At AMCOM, the goal is to reduce the cost of non-labor hours. Of the $6.3 billion in sustainment costs last year, 84 percent were non-labor costs. To offset the high price tag, AMCOM lost 272 employee positions.

"I've challenged my work force to let's not go after people," Rogers said. "Let's get more efficient in our supply chain and go after inefficiencies.

"We're extremely effective. We support the war fighter better than ever before. But we're not very efficient."

The goal is to reduce the AMCOM budget by $3.6 billion by June. So far, $537 million in reductions have been realized, with $276 million saved by reducing backorders. AMCOM has employees working in 17 different areas to see efficiency improvements.

"If we can get this sustainment piece in place, then we need to look at how we can build efficiencies into systems we are getting ready to build," Rogers said.

AMCOM will rely on condition-based maintenance, and an airframe inspection and maintenance program to reset the Army fleet. On average, it takes two years after a war to get all aircraft reset. The mission is vital in maintaining the aging fleet through 2030.

"We're still in this business to make sure we take care of Soldiers. There's still a war going on," Rogers said. "We couldn't do this without our industry partners. The teaming we are doing is unprecedented."

Despite the cost reduction environment, Crosby said Army aviation will be wherever it has to be to support the war fighter. It will also work to maintain an industrial base that is vital to Army aviation success.

"We're flying Kiowas at the highest optempo of any aircraft in the field at an average of 100 hours per aircraft per month," he said. "Three aircraft flew over 200 hours last month and one flew over 250 hours.

"We've got to figure out how to draw that down while keeping our industrial base warm and our depots looped up. The challenge to all of us is as we scale down we have to maintain the level of support."

Army aviation is using the depots more to re-manufacture its aircraft rather than buying new as a way to cut costs. One new program -- the future vertical lift medium -- is the only program on the horizon to replace current aviation systems by 2030.

"Seventy-five percent of the current fleet is Black Hawk and Apache," Crosby said. "We're starting to lay the groundwork to replace these aging systems."

From 2003-11, Army aviation flew 5.1 million total flight hours, with 3.6 million hours in Iraq and Kuwait, and 1.4 million hours in Afghanistan. Aircraft stay in theater for two or three deployment cycles, and then they are returned to the U.S. for reset.

"The age of aircraft is based on environment and optempo. How old do you think those systems are? How do we balance between reset and overhaul? We're going to have to take some risks and decide what are the enabling technologies that we need to go after. The bottom line is performance, sustainability and affordability," Crosby said. "With the limited resources I've got, this is all I can do."

Initiatives that cut fuel costs, increase power and provide better sustainment at lower costs are all worth looking at, he said.

"Supporting the Soldier is our number one priority. PEO Aviation is constantly evolving to always meet the needs of the Soldiers, and we're committed to and reliant upon our partners," Crosby said.

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