Bucking Army, Commission Calls for Guard to Keep Some Apache Units

AH-64 Apache Longbow

The commission formed to recommend changes to the Army's force structure is bucking the service's plan to move all AH-64 Apache attack helicopter units from National Guard into the active component.

Instead, the National Commission on the Future of the Army is calling for four Apache units to remain in the Guard and for 20 Apache units to be maintained by the active force.

"Compared with the ARI, the Commission's recommended plan offers advantages in wartime capacity, wartime surge, and peacetime operational tempo," the commissions states in its 200-page report released Thursday afternoon, referring to the acronym for the Aviation Restructuring Initiative.

The Guard had put forward its own proposal to retain six Apache units. But six units with the Guard would reduce wartime capacity and increase costs, according to the report released by the commission, which was chaired by Carter Ham, a retired Army general who as head of Africa Command in 2011 led the U.S. military intervention in Libya.

Proposal Stirred Controversy

Under the Army's initial plan, the Guard would have lost its entire fleet of 192 Apaches, 30 OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters and up to 104 UH-72 Lakota light-utility choppers, as part of a plan $12 billion over five years.

That plan was later revised so they Guard wouldn't have to give up the Lakotas, which the active component agreed to purchase aircraft instead. In all, the Guard was set to lose 222 aircraft and get back half that amount in the form of UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters.

Ten states were to be directly affected by the complete initiative. Nine states were to lose Apache units, including Arizona, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Utah; while Tennessee was to lose a Kiowa unit. Lawmakers and Guard official criticized the plan.

"You take the Apaches out of the Guard and all that experience of pilots is gone. And the maintainers are gone," John Goheen, a spokesman for the National Guard Association of the United States, said at the time. If the mission goes away there is no reason for any to remain, eliminating the "strategic depth" of experience and capability that the Guard represents for the Army, he said.

Guard Welcomes Compromise

The commission's recommendation reflects a compromise between what the Army and the Defense Department say is needed and Congress' wish to keep some Apaches with the states as Guard assets.

Not surprisingly, the Guard association welcomed the commission's proposal. In a statement, Gus Hargett, the organization's president and a retired major general, said the commission took seriously the concerns of Guard officials and soldiers.

"In its tone as well as in its recommendations, the commission sees the Army National Guard continuing as a full partner in our Army, including attack aviation," he said. "It also sees a need for greater integration among the components. We certainly agree in principle."

But Hargett noted that the recommendations are not binding and the Guard, the Army and Congress will have to work together to make tough decisions.

"This task will not be easy. And fiscal barriers and today's rapidly evolving world only complicate the effort," he said. "But we have an obligation to our nation to get this done and get it done right."

Army Evaluating Recommendations

Army public affairs chief Brig. Gen. Malcolm Frost said service leaders including Army Secretary John McHugh, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Army National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy and Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley are assessing the report.

"The Army's evaluation of the costs, benefits, and risks outlined is just now beginning," he said.

Frost said the he expects the panel's recommendations to provide opportunities to strengthen the effectiveness of the force.

With the Army forced to downsize at a time of expanding requirements, it has found itself vying with its sister services for resources. The result, the commission wrote, is "in some unhealthy competitive tension among the Army's components, especially between the Regular Army and the Army National Guard."

This competition, and in particular the Pentagon's backing of the Army proposal to assume control of all Apache units, prompted Congress to establish the commission. Congress' move wasn't surprising. Lawmakers have a stake in the future of Guard units, which mean federal dollars and jobs to the states.

Permanent Brigades Europe

The commission also recommended for the Army to return to a practice of permanently stationing aviation and armored brigade combat teams in Europe. While rotating personnel and equipment onto the continent has its benefits, the practice is also carries operational risks, is costly and probably not justifiable under the current threat conditions, according to the panel.

"The changing security environment in Europe, its value as a stationing location for potential contingencies in the Middle East, and the relatively lengthy timelines associated with deploying an [aviation and armored] Brigade Combat Team suggest the need to return to permanent stationing of this asset in the region," the report states.

Noting the number of soldiers stationed in Europe has declined from almost 217,000 at the end of the Cold War to about 28,500 today, the commission argued that rotating units onto the continent puts unnecessary strain on the force.

For example, it says the Army currently operates at a 1:2 deployment-to-dwell ratio – and that requires three units to sustain a deployment of one unit. The Army National Guard and Army Reserve operate at a 1:5 ratio, so that six units sustain one unit's deployment.

"Frequent rotations can create operational risks in the readiness and timeliness of key capabilities," the commission says. "It also can create additional expense by increasing the overall amount of equipment and personnel required to create sustained forward presence."

Risks to Downsizing

Citing a resurgent Russia in Europe, the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and other threats, commission also argued against decreasing the overall size of the Army to 920,000 soldiers in coming years under spending caps known as sequestration.

The service was budgeted to have 1,015,000 soldiers in fiscal 2016, which began Oct. 1, including 475,000 in the active component, 342,000 in the Army National Guard and 198,000 in the Army Reserve, according to Pentagon budget documents.

"An Army that declines to 920,000 soldiers and faces limits on funding for readiness and modernization is not enough to do the job," the report states.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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