National Guard May 2011 : Page 32
STATE OF ARMY NATIONAL GUARD AVIATION Looking Good By William Mathews The Army Guard aircraft fleet is impressive on paper, but high demand is causing shortages today and modernization delays could weaken its capabilities tomorrow OLSTERED BY YEARS of war funding, the Army Na-tional Guard’s aircraft ﬂeet is the best it has been in a long time—and the busiest. National Guard Bureau officials announced late last year that, for the B | ﬁrst time, the Guard had acquired its full complement of 786 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters—although since then, its authorized number increased to 849 (box, page 34) . The Guard also has almost 90 percent of its requirement for twin-bladed CH-47 Chinook helicopters. It expects to increase its ﬂeet of new UH-72 Lakota light utility helicopters to nearly 100 by the end of this year. And the modernization of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters progresses apace. Of the 1,463 aircraft called for in ﬁscal 2011 requirements, the Army Guard has all but six, according to its latest annual ﬁnancial report. But that optimistic overview masks some serious problems. Topping the list is the scheduled loss of its ﬂeet of ﬁxed-wing cargo planes. The venerable C-23 Sherpas, 32 Na tional Guard
State of Army National Guard Aviation<br /> <br /> The Army Guard aircraft fleet is impressive on paper, but high demand is causing shortages today and modernization delays could weaken its capabilities tomorrow<br /> <br /> BOLSTERED BY YEARS of war funding, the Army National Guard's aircraft fleet is the best it has been in a long time–and the busiest.<br /> <br /> National Guard Bureau officials announced late last year that, for the first time, the Guard had acquired its full complement of 786 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters–although since then, its authorized number increased to 849 (box, page 34).<br /> <br /> The Guard also has almost 90 percent of its requirement for twinbladed CH-47 Chinook helicopters. It expects to increase its fleet of new UH- 72 Lakota light utility helicopters to nearly 100 by the end of this year. And the modernization of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters progresses apace.<br /> <br /> Of the 1,463 aircraft called for in fiscal 2011 requirements, the Army Guard has all but six, according to its latest annual financial report.<br /> <br /> But that optimistic overview masks some serious problems.<br /> <br /> Topping the list is the scheduled loss of its fleet of fixed-wing cargo planes. The venerable C-23 Sherpas, which have spent most of the last decade diligently delivering supplies to remote outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan and speeding emergency response operations at home, are about to be retired. And the plan is not to replace them.<br /> <br /> Guard officials are pressing Congress to halt the retirements and restore the Army Guard's fixed-wing mission, but the matter is far from resolved.<br /> <br /> Compounding that problem is the ceaseless demand for helicopters in the war zones overseas, which is causing aviation shortages at home.<br /> <br /> Arizona Gov. Janice Brewer has complained to President Barack Obama of having too few OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopters for operations along the Southwest border.<br /> <br /> NGAUS has alerted Congress that the current pace of Army Guard operations is wearing out Black Hawks faster than they're being replaced.<br /> <br /> The National Governors Association has weighed in, too, warning that the Army Guard is "still seriously underequipped." Shortages include utility helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, the association says.<br /> <br /> Army Guard air crews flew 234,732 hours in 2010, from medevac missions in Iraq to emergency supply deliveries to earthquake-stricken Haiti. They tracked drug smugglers along the Mexican border, flew air assault missions in eastern Afghanistan and fought wildfires in California.<br /> <br /> That's 30,000 hours more than they flew in 2009 and 13,000 more than in 2008, according to Guard records.<br /> <br /> In Afghanistan and Iraq, Guard helicopters fly three to five times more than they ordinarily would, says Col. Randy Rotte, deputy director of the Army's Aviation Office. For Black Hawks and Chinooks, that's about 50 hours a month. For Kiowa Warriors, it's up to 90 hours. Apaches fall in between, he says.<br /> <br /> But even at that accelerated pace overseas, the bulk of Army Guard flying–182,732 hours in 2010–is still done at home, either in training for upcoming deployments or while performing domestic missions.<br /> <br /> Between the wars and domestic needs, the demand for aircraft "is insatiable," Rotte says. His job is to help ensure that the Army–including the Guard–has the helicopters and fixedwing planes it needs.<br /> <br /> That isn't always possible.<br /> <br /> In Oregon, for example, there is a "dramatic" shortage of Chinooks, says Col. Todd Farmer, the state aviation director. "We typically see three or four out of the six" two-rotor choppers that the state is supposed to have, he says.<br /> <br /> The big cargo carriers are being pulled in at least three different directions. "There is a huge demand" for them in Afghanistan, Farmer says. And a fair number are also needed for training air crews that are preparing to deploy.<br /> <br /> In addition, Chinooks are regularly being taken out of service to feed a production line that upgrades CH- 47Ds into F-models, he says.<br /> <br /> So when states need Chinooks, "it's really tough," Farmer says. "They're real workhorses when it comes to wildfires and heavy hauling." The work is usually plentiful, but the aircraft are often scarce, even after the Army transferred eight additional Chinooks to the Guard in January to make more available for domestic needs.<br /> <br /> In Arizona, the governor complained to the president last summer that she had "only four Kiowas available for border missions." Not enough, she said, "to provide the kind of support needed on the Arizona boarder."<br /> <br /> The Arizona Guard has other helicopters, mainly Black Hawks, Brewer said, but "the majority of them are currently deployed overseas."<br /> <br /> She asked Obama to move Kiowas from other parts of the country to Arizona and the other Southwest border states. "I recognize the concept of reallocation creates significant concern among states," Brewer acknowledged.<br /> <br /> So far, no OH-58s have been relocated, Arizona Guard officials say. In February, when the National Governors Association pointed out aircraft shortages, it also warned that "current aviation modernization plans fail to adequately address these shortages."<br /> <br /> The governors called for Congress and the White House "to ensure an increased supply of helicopters for the Army National Guard and an increased supply of theater fixed-wing aircraft for both the Army and the Air National Guard."<br /> <br /> Help on the helicopter front might actually be on the way in the two most recent defense budgets. The 2011 budget allocates $455 million for Guard AH-64A to D helicopter conversions and $205 million for the Guard to buy 10 new Black Hawks and upgrade 10 A-model helicopters. Congress finally passed the spending plan last month after six months of haggling.<br /> <br /> As written, the 2012 budget includes $215 million for 35 Lakotas, $540 million is for 18 Chinooks, $175 million for nine Black Hawks and $60 million for helicopter upgrades. But the budget wars continue, so that could still change. What items survive won't be clear until next fall at the earliest.<br /> <br /> Guard officials are also hoping to include changes to the 2012 budget to prevent the demise of the Sherpas and the Army Guard's main fixedwing flying mission.<br /> <br /> The Army Guard operates 41 Sherpa cargo planes, but they are scheduled to begin retiring this year and to be out of the Guard by the end of 2014, says Col. Michael Bobeck, the chief of National Guard Bureau's Aviation and Safety Division.<br /> <br /> The plan had been to replace them with larger, more powerful–and more expensive–C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft. But in 2009, the Army agreed to allow the Air Force to handle exclusively the "last tactical mile" airlift mission. Consequently, the JCA purchase was cut from 78 to 38 aircraft, with all of them slated for the Air Force, primarily the Air Guard.<br /> <br /> If that decision stands, the Army Guard will no longer have a small, rugged cargo plane able to deliver up to 18 troops or four tons of supplies quickly to remote bases that have only a primitive airstrip.<br /> <br /> That job really can't be done by other Army Guard aircraft, says Maj. Gen. Raymond Rees, the adjutant general of Oregon and chairman of the Army Guard Force Structure and Modernization Committee of the Adjutants General Association of the United States (AGAUS).<br /> <br /> The Sherpa "has a little more reach and a little more speed than a helicopter," he says. And it's a lot cheaper to operate.<br /> <br /> Despite being 25 years old, Sherpas have proven to be "absolutely a workhorse, a great platform" in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rees says. "They have a phenomenal record and are in high demand. The idea that we're going to just hand off that mission is perplexing."<br /> <br /> But that's what the Pentagon wants. Cutting the C-27J buy in half and turning the planes over to the Air Force was a cost-cutting decision made by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Rotte says.<br /> <br /> The new Guard Coalition has urged the Armed Services Committees in Congress to block Sherpa retirements. NGAUS, AGAUS and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States also want lawmakers to restore operations and maintenance funding to keep the planes flying while Guard, Army and Pentagon leaders come up with a new plan to keep fixed-wing cargo planes in the Army Guard.<br /> <br /> The Army Guard also operates several dozen other fixed-wing planes, but they lack the capability of the Sherpas. They include C-12s that can carry 13 passengers or cargo, turboprop C-21s that can carry eight passengers, and similar size UC-35 turboprops. The Sherpa matter aside, Rees agrees that the helicopter side of Army Guard aviation is in remarkably good shape.<br /> <br /> "In 2003, 2004, 2005, some very good plans were put in place that, by and large, we've been following to modernize Army Guard aviation," he says. "If we stay on that course, we will have very good results." But the Capitol Hill budget battles are causing some anxiety about whether aviation modernization programs will be able to stay the course, he says. It's one of the reasons why aviation systems are on the Army Guard's fiscal 2012 Top 25 equipment modernization and capability shortfall list. <br /> <br /> On the plus side, the Guard is receiving some helicopters fresh from the factory, a distinct departure from the decades-old practice of getting handme- downs from the active-component Army after it received new aircraft.<br /> <br /> Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, new equipment now is provided, as much as possible, to whichever units are next to deploy– regardless of whether they're active component or Guard, Rotte says.<br /> <br /> Thus, the first HH-60M, a factoryfresh medical evacuation helicopter, went to the Vermont National Guard's C Company, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation, which took it to Iraq in 2010.<br /> <br /> The second HH-60M went to the Florida Guard, Rotte says, and the first UH-60M, the latest model Black Hawk utility helicopter, was delivered to the Guard in Wisconsin.<br /> <br /> "That would never have happened" were it not for the wars, Rotte says. But the brand new M-model medevac helicopters are causing considerable consternation among some Guard officials.<br /> <br /> They're specially built for medical evacuations, equipped with state-ofthe- art medical systems such as oxygen generators, suction systems for cleaning wounds and vital signs monitors. The problem is, much of the medical equipment is built-in.<br /> <br /> That means the helicopters can't be reconfigured for other missions. Their physical inflexibility is backed up by a restrictive policy that limits the new helicopters to medevac, search and rescue and training missions.<br /> <br /> "It's a very big problem," Rees says. The Guard would get a lot more use out of the helicopters if the medical gear could be removed when it's not needed and the aircraft could be flown for missions such as supporting troops in training exercises and responding to nonmedical state emergencies, Rees says. "We would get more bang for the buck."<br /> <br /> Adjutants general from a number of states have registered complaints, but the medical community has resisted using the HH-60Ms for anything other than medical missions, and so far it has prevailed, Rees says.<br /> <br /> There is better news regarding another new helicopter–the UH-72 Lakota. Of the first 39 built, 35 went to the Guard and four went to the activecomponent Army, Rotte says. And those four enabled the Army to turn larger, more capable Black Hawks over to the Guard.<br /> <br /> As of last month, the Guard has 92 Lakotas, and by 2017, the Guard expects to own 210 of the 345 UH-72s being built.<br /> <br /> The Lakotas are military variants of civilian Eurocopter EC145 helicopters, which are widely used for medical evacuations, law enforcement and corporate transportation. They are flown by two pilots and can carry eight troops or a medical crew and two patients on stretchers.<br /> <br /> In the Guard, they're intended for missions ranging from general transportation to medical evacuations and counterdrug operations.<br /> <br /> As the Lakotas arrive, the Guard's OH-58A and C Kiowas will be retired. On average, they're 40 years old.<br /> <br /> Although they date back to the Vietnam War, Kiowas have been updated over the years with night-vision systems, GPS capabilities, moving maps, law-enforcement-compatible radios and other gear for domestic operations.<br /> <br /> As they are replaced by Lakotas, three fates await the Kiowas. Some will be transferred to the Army's aviation training center at Fort Rucker, Ala., to work as trainers. Others will be sent to the Army's helicopter depot at Corpus Christi, Texas, to be converted into OH-58Ds, which not long ago were supposed to be replaced by the now cancelled Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter. And the rest will be used for spare parts Rotte says.<br /> <br /> Those being converted into D models will be equipped with machine guns and weapons pylons capable of carrying a mix of rockets and missiles.<br /> <br /> Despite their age, the Kiowas "have been a pleasant surprise," Rotte says. "We've been able to meet maintenance requirements and keep them flying."<br /> <br /> Partly that's because they're simpler than other helicopters, and partly it's because "the guys turning the wrenches are that good," he says.<br /> <br /> The same depot that will turn OH-58A Kiowas into Kiowa Warriors is also turning 25-year-old A-model Black Hawks into essentially new UH- 60Ls.<br /> <br /> During that transformation, which takes about a year, the old Black Hawks are disassembled down to their frames and rebuilt with more powerful engines, better transmissions, improved flight controls and new rotors.<br /> <br /> The result is a nearly new helicopter that has greater lift, requires less maintenance and has lower operating costs. After their overhaul, the UH- 60Ls are good for another decade or two of service, the Army says.<br /> <br /> But the transformation from A to L isn't especially swift, nor is it funded past 2016.<br /> <br /> "At the current UH-60 conversion rate, it will take until mid-2023 to fully modernize the UH-60A fleet," the Pentagon told Congress in a February Guard and Reserve equipment report.<br /> <br /> Upgrades to Apache Longbows are moving along faster.<br /> <br /> The Guard expects to retire its AH-64As and have a fleet comprised entirely of AH-64Ds by the end of 2014, Rotte says. With the passage of the 2011 budget last month, all the funds should now be in place.<br /> <br /> The D models are overhauled and upgraded A models. The main improvement is a Longbow firecontrol radar system that enables the Apaches to detect, classify and prioritize ground targets. It works in poor weather, obscured conditions, day or night, aiming "fire and forget" Hellfire missiles at selected targets.<br /> <br /> Although it has been flying since 1975, the Apache remains the world's most-advanced attack helicopter, the Army says.<br /> <br /> Guard requirements call for 192 of them, but so far there are only 144 on hand, the Guard and Reserve equipment report says.<br /> <br /> The Guard has 141 of the 161 Chinooks listed in requirements. But the 20 missing helicopters are expected to be delivered by the end of 2013, according to the Army's 2010 modernization strategy.<br /> <br /> The F-model CH-47s are to begin arriving this year, and all Army Guard D-model Chinooks should be replaced by CH-47Fs by the end of 2017.<br /> <br /> William Matthews is a freelance writer based in Springfield, Va., who specializes in military matters. He can be contacted at email@example.com.<br />
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