Curtchfield: New Rotary Wing Platform Should Be An Army
While most of the focus in today's Army is on the war fighter
and how best to support current military operations in Iraq and
Afghanistan, a leader in military aviation is calling for some of
that focus to shift to the equipment needs of the future. In the
Army's aviation arena, that future focus should aim on a new rotary
wing platform, said Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield (pictured,
below), Army Aviation branch chief and commander of the Aviation
Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, AL.
Speaking at the Army Aviation Association of America's 37th
annual Joseph P. Cribbins Aviation Product Support Symposium at the
Von Braun Center on Thursday, Crutchfield said the symposium's
theme - "Army Aviation: The New Challenge" - emphasizes the need
for planning for future systems that will continue to grow the
Army's aviation mission. "We'll not begin the next fight the way we
end this one," Crutchfield said, referring to Operation Iraqi
Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. "The aviators of today were
trained by Vietnam veterans, but this war is not Vietnam. We have
to prepare for a 21st century fight. Our greatest challenge lies
beyond the horizon, beyond Iraq and Afghanistan."
The future security environment will be built on Army needs and
capability assessments, he said, but, to get to that, Army aviation
leaders must "go to a 20-foot hover and start looking past Iraq and
Crutchfield centered many of his comments on comparing two
aviation systems - the highly successful "Huey" helicopter and the
failed attempts to build the Comanche helicopter. Huey (UH-1)
helicopters have been in the Army's aviation arsenal since Vietnam.
The Huey took four years to go from requirement to first flight,
and eight years from requirement to full production. More than
7,000 Hueys flew in Vietnam and 16,000 were built, providing a
proven helicopter system that has been used worldwide. Just two
weeks ago, the Yakima Training Center in Washington state retired
their Huey as the unit's Medevac helicopter. "That's one of the
last Army units to have UH-1s. That's 51 years of service,"
Crutchfield said. "It lasted 51 years for us."
In contrast, it took eight years of new aviation system
development just to come up with the name "Comanche." It took 22
years to build two Comanches, now museum pieces. The program was
canceled, with much of its resources being rerouted to modify the
Army's proven aviation systems. "I don't think we can continue that
way. The Huey wasn't perfect, but we've modernized it along the
way," Crutchfield said. "I don't want to offend anyone with the
Comanche and UH-1 analogy. I just want to drive home the point that
we can't expect to get it all right, but we also can't afford to
get it all wrong."
Comanche Artist's Concept
With the Huey, the Army determined the requirement, developed a
solution, procured and fielded a quality airframe, and adapted that
airframe through modernization. With the Comanche, the Army and its
industry partners kept searching for the perfect platform and never
got it within its grasp, he said. Today's challenge is that the
Army must find replacements for an aviation fleet that does not
have an infinite lifespan, even with modernization taken into
account. Crutchfield said the Apache and Black Hawk lifespans end
in 2040, the Chinook's lifespan ends in 2035 and the Kiowa's
lifespan ends in 2025. "We've got to set an aim point for a future
level and then we need to develop a new airframe by 2025," he said.
"We're not going to field the perfect solution, the holy grail. If
we try for the holy grail, then we will cancel the next thing and
we won't be flying anything."
Black Hawk File Photo
The role of the next airframe - lift, attack or utility - has
not yet been determined. But, Crutchfield said the Army and
industry partners must look out beyond current needs and determine
requirements based on "our best assessment of the future." That
"best assessment" means synchronizing needs across the aviation
enterprise and the war fighting functions to include movement and
maneuver, fire systems, intelligence, sustainment, command and
control, and protection. It also means realizing that changes in
science and technology, Army doctrines and tactics, force structure
and the enemy will have to be considered.
Other factors to consider is that aviation systems must be able
to operate in a collaborative environment of networks and a mix of
ground and air capabilities; that funding will be limited; that new
airframes must perform, be available, increase in range, speed,
payload, survivability and reliability, and reduce in logistical
footprint; and that aviators can't expect to always operate from
fixed bases. The Army's new airframe can be available by the 2030
timeframe if the aim point is kept stationary and if the Army is
willing to accept "good enough" based on assessments and analysis,
Kiowa File Photo
"This is revolutionary, not evolutionary," the major general
said. "I feel passionately about this because the men and women who
trained me handed off to me a mantle. I feel like they have
entrusted in me something that is very valuable. I do not want to
let you down, our Soldiers down, our Army down or our nation down.
"I feel, finally, in my heart, that if we can set an aim point,
stick to it, develop a product and make trade offs based on what's
good enough, then we will have a new airframe."