Army Aviation: SUPPORTING THE SOLDIER

Article excerpt

With the termination of the Comanche program in 2004, the Army began an Aviation transformation with a focus on modernizing the current fleet of aircraft and procuring new, state-of-the-art aircraft to more effectively operate in current and emerging combat environments. In support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Army Aviation platforms have already flown nearly two million flight hours. In the past year alone, our systems have flown more than half a million flight hours supporting the global war on terrorism. These numbers reflect a 200 to 300 percent increase over the peacetime operational tempo (OPTEMPO); maintaining this pace results in a large amount of wear and tear on our systems. Our challenge is to continue to provide this heightened level of support to the warfighters while simultaneously maintaining and modernizing our fleet.

While operating our systems at this elevated pace, our maintainers have managed to sustain outstanding readiness rates. For example, the venerable Kiowa Warrior received an availability rate of 15 percent higher than the Army standard in October 2007, while sustaining a monthly OPTEMPO in excess of 80 hours per aircraft. Even in the demanding Southwest Asia environment, the fleet of Army aircraft is easily surpassing its standard mission capability rate.

Such statistics are primarily attributable to the aggressive and proactive maintenance accomplished by our personnel deployed worldwide. Initiatives such as condition-based maintenance and soldier-focused logistics were put in place to ensure that we conduct appropriate, timely maintenance actions and that we have the parts we need when we need them in order to keep our aircraft in the fight. Maintaining our ability to support the soldier will continue to be our primary focus.

Since the conclusion of the Cold War, the operational environment our soldiers face has been constantly evolving. Army Aviation has the daunting task of staying in front of an enemy that is changing its tactics on a regular basis. Modernizing the fleet is a very important aspect of supporting the warfighter. Not only are new aircraft-including the Apache, Black Hawk and Chinook-being delivered to the Army every month, but we are also constantly developing and testing more modern, updated systems within the aircraft in order to better protect the soldier, help him complete the mission and better maintain the aircraft. In addition, the Army has signed production contracts for new platforms, such as the light utility helicopter and the Joint cargo aircraft, with capability requirements unique to the new and anticipated operational environments.

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are providing even further support to the soldiers in the field by performing surveillance and reconnaissance operations without putting soldiers' lives at risk. These systems are already in theater and have flown more than 300,000 hours in support of OIF and OEF. Because of the increased demand for the capabilities that these systems provide, the Army is continuing to develop and procure new unmanned aircraft. For example, 157 Raven B small unmanned aerial vehicles have been delivered to the Army and are headed to theater, and a second production contract is being finalized to purchase additional Ravens. …