Stretched by many years of continuous combat and counterterrorism operations, deployments and severe budget constraints, military aviators in the U.S. and throughout the world are searching for economical options to sustain their flight and combat training capabilities while ensuring full support for troops in the field.
As the Assn. of the U.S. Army gathers April 26 to 28 in Nashville, Tennessee, for the 2017 Army Aviation Mission Solutions Summit, we take a look at what the U.S. Army and other military services and vendors are doing to meet some of their current training challenges.
This year’s gathering at the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center outside of Nashville comes as the association marks what it calls the 75th anniversary of Army aviation, pointing to the November 8, 1942, Allied invasion of French Northwest Africa. That operation marked combat debut of air observation post concept, according to Quad A. (This year also marks the 50th anniversary of R&WI.)
“More than 14 years of continuous employment is taken hold on the Army’s soldiers and aircraft fleets,” Brig. Gen. Thomas Todd, the Army’s new head of the Program Executive Office for Aviation, has said. “We have been able to sustain an incredibly high operations tempo supporting combatant commanders across the globe. But it is no secret that, as a force, Army aviation is stretched and stressed.
“Limited resources, unpredictable funding and changing requirements have and will continue to challenge our ability to maintain the relevance of the Army aviation portfolio and lay the foundation continued modernization,” he said.
In the U.S., the budget constraints may be easing. Last year’s election of a new, Republican president and stronger hold by that party on both houses of Congress are likely to produce a number of changes, including an emphasis on enhanced defense funding and an impetus to end six years of severe budget constraints under what has been called sequestration. President Donald Trump has vowed to rebuild what he has called a “hollowed out” military.
The Trump administration’s first U.S. defense appropriations bill, sent to Capitol Hill March 2 for fiscal 2017, includes several billion dollars for Army force structure increases and boosts to aircraft and other procurement over the budget request submitted by the previous administration.
The bill authorizes a boost to Army end strength of 16,000 soldiers from 460,000 to 476,000, which would put the service 1,000 troops above its funded size in fiscal 2016. The Army Reserve would increase in size from 195,000 to 199,000, which also would put it 1,000 soldiers above fiscal 2016. The Army National Guard also would increase its troop strength by 8,000 troops to 105,700.
The proposed defense budget, which must be approved by Congress, offered guidance for specific programs targeted for funding bumps.
They include an extra $1.1 billion to buy 61 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks, $774 million for 52 re-manufactured Boeing AH-64 Apaches, $190 million for five new Apaches and $72 million to support advanced procurement of an additional 10 aircraft.
Another $187 million is provided for 28 Airbus Helicopters UH-72A Lakotas “for the Army in support of ongoing mission requirements at the Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, the Combat Training Centers, and the Army Test and Evaluation Center,” the guidance states. The Lakota is used to train Army aviators and as a utility aircraft by the National Guard. Buying more of the aircraft was included in the Army’s unfunded wish list for fiscal 2017.
Empire Test Pilots’ School
Changes are afoot elsewhere in the training arena.
One example is QinetiQ’s 1 billion pound deal with the U.K. Ministry of Defence, signed in December, to modernize the U.K.’s test aircrew training and air range capabilities. As part of the agreement, QinetiQ is investing 85 million pounds in the Empire Test Pilots’ School to reduce operating costs, enhance capabilities and drive future growth. This includes the purchase of eight new aircraft to comprehensively update and future-proof the fleet that delivers training.
Under the new contract, QinetiQ is to manage the Empire Test Pilots’ School until at least 2028.
As part of that effort, QinetiQ has signed a deal for four Airbus H125 helicopters as part of its modernization of the Empire Test Pilots’ School, which it manages alongside the defense ministry.
Worth approximately 15 million pounds, the deal will see Airbus Helicopters’ U.K. design team upgrade the Garmin G500-equipped aircraft with, among other capabilities, a three-axis autopilot, dedicated communications equipment and traffic awareness systems. This is in addition to a flight test instrumentation suite, which is used to test and evaluate aircraft design and performance — a critical part of a test pilot or flight test engineer’s training.
The contract includes aircraft modification and 10 years’ full HCare support package, helping to deliver full availability. The aircraft are expected to enter service in early 2019.
“We and the MOD are investing 85 million pounds in the Empire Test Pilots’ School under our strategy to modernize the U.K.’s Test Aircrew Training capability,” said QinetiQ Managing Director Air & Space John Anderson. “Assembling a fleet that provides the very best value and performance is vital to this strategy, and the H125 will play a leading role. It’s an exciting time at the Empire Test Pilots’ School, not just for us, but for our customers, who can look forward to improved programs, delivered in a more flexible way, using cutting edge aircraft.”
“As one of the world’s ‘Big Four’ test pilot schools, it is hugely encouraging to think that for many years to come, all Empire Test Pilots’ School helicopter test pilots and flight test engineers will train on Airbus aircraft,” said Airbus Helicopters’ U.K. Managing Director Colin James. “With this deal, Airbus Helicopters is committed to providing long-term support to help make future helicopter training a success.”
In February, the school was recognized by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) as an approved training organization (ATO), certified to train test pilots to civil standards. The accreditation means the Empire Test Pilots’ School is one of three schools in the world, and the first in the UK, able to provide test pilots with course completion certificates needed to obtain civil Flight Test Ratings in compliance with new EASA regulations. R&WI