Top priorities of U.S. Army aviation during a time of declining budgets and manpower are to re-engine Apache and Black Hawk helicopters and upgrade UH-60L Black Hawks with digital cockpits, said the service’s outgoing aviation program executive officer.
Under the Army’s Advanced Affordable Turbine Engine program, General Electric and Advanced Turbine Engine Co., a joint venture of Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney, are developing more powerful and fuel efficient 3,000-shp turboshaft engines. The technology development effort is a precursor to the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) to replace the GE T700 engines that power Apaches and Black Hawks. The Army is expected to issue a request for proposals for the ITEP requirement this year.
The Army also plans to upgrade analog UH-60L models to the same capability of M models rather than purchase all M models. Last summer, it formed the new UH-60L Digital Product Directorate to lead the effort.
“My personal top two [priorities], to meet the needs of my warfighter, are the ITEP and the ‘L’ digital cockpit,” said Maj. Gen. William Crosby. “I think we’ll be able to appropriately resource those and get them on a better time line.”
Crosby is retiring from the Army on January 24 after serving 35 years, including five years as aviation program executive officer. He met with reporters for what the service said was his final press conference on January 14 at the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) aviation symposium in Arlington, Va. Col. Robert Marion, a brigadier general nominee who recently served as the Army’s cargo helicopter program manager, will succeed Crosby.
Also at the AUSA conference, Maj. Gen. Kevin Mangum, who commands the Army’s Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, Ala., told attendees that budget cuts and the drawdown from Afghanistan are leading the Army to consider rebalancing its helicopter fleet, the Army news service reported. Using AH-64D/E Apaches in manned-unmanned teaming operations with Shadow and Grey Eagle UAVs, he said, will meet “about 80 percent” of the requirement for a new armed aerial scout, an acquisition the Army has shelved.
The money needed to recast the scout mission and to upgrade Apaches from D to E models would come from divesting OH-58 Kiowas and “about 15 military occupational specialties” associated with the helicopter, he said. Modernizing the Kiowas would cost more than $10 billion, which the Army doesn’t have, Mangum added.
In 2010, the service conducted an analysis of alternatives (AoA) that found that a mix of Apaches and UAVs could fulfill the armed scout requirement. “The scout mission is hugely still valid,” Crosby said. “Unfortunately, what we do is we tie a mission to a platform, and we’ve been doing that mission for a long time with the Kiowa. There was an AoA some time back that said the best scout was an Apache [but] we couldn’t afford to buy the Apaches. Thinking in those terms, if we’re going to come down in strength and size, we certainly don’t want to part with any new Apaches. Why don’t we use them in a scout role?”