Magazine article National Defense

Congress to Delay Controversial Army Aviation Restructure Plan

Magazine article National Defense

Congress to Delay Controversial Army Aviation Restructure Plan

Article excerpt

The debate over the Army's aviation restructure initiative is only the opening bell for what will likely be a long, painful struggle to define the roles of the service's active and National Guard components, experts said.

Despite opposition from Army leadership, the result will likely be a congressionally mandated commission to study the proposal to reshuffle aircraft, they said.

Under the Army's plan, the National Guard would transfer its entire fleet of 192 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to the active force in return for 111 UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters. The active component wants additional Apaches to take over reconnaissance missions currently flown by the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior--an aging scout helicopter that will be retired because the Army does not have the money to either refurbish it or buy a new platform.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odi-erno has said the initiative will save the service $12 billion, even as the price per unit of new "Echo"-model Apaches grows as a result of the Army having to stretch out its procurement plan to fit budget constraints.

The aviation restructure will result in "better and more capable formations," he told the Senate Appropriations Committee in April. "These are not cuts we want to take, these are cuts we must take based on sequestration."

The restructure is painful, but the Army has no other options, said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute. "You simply, arguably, cannot afford the cost of keeping the Kiowa Warriors flying for much longer, and you can't afford a

replacement for them. Absent that fact, this is making the best of a bad series of choices, not a good solution in the absolute sense."

The battle over aviation assets is a symptom of a broader problem in the relationship between the active military and the National Guard, said Maren Leed, the Harold Brown chair in defense policy studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"I sort of think of it as a marriage in crisis. The active component to some degree feels as if the reserve component has cheated on them by going to Congress, and the reserve component says, 'Well, I had no other option, you were ignoring me and not listening to my needs," she said. "There's a huge lack of trust, a huge gap that has to be overcome because ... this is not the end of the budget crisis. We're going to have to revisit this in lots of different contexts, and we're not on a good path to do that in a constructive way going forward."

Besides cuts to aviation, Army leaders have also cited the need to downsize force strength. Today, National Guard troops number about 350,000. The Army plans on reducing that by 5 percent to 335,000. If sequestration is reinstated after fiscal year 2015, it will be slashed even further to 315,000. The active component will take a larger cut of about 15 percent, from 520,000 to as low as 440,000 soldiers. Sequestration would bring about a reduction to 420,000.

What's really under debate is the identity of the Army National Guard, its duties and mission, Goure said. With the transfer of the Apaches, the Guard will lose its attack capability, although Black Hawks are also

able to engage in combat.

The Guard typically has reflected the capabilities of the active component, only on a smaller scale. Fiscal pressures likely will force a greater distinction between the two forces, he said.

"That's not desirable, but it is inevitable because of the budget," he said. "In the last decade [the Guard] really shifted very successfully from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve." However, there is no longer enough money to keep the Guard able to fulfill that role, he added.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chairman of the subcommittee on military personnel on the House Armed Services Committee, has proposed enacting a commission to study the plan. …

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