Last month, at an Army aviation symposium in Washington, D.C., the commanding general of the service’s aviation branch, Maj. Gen. James Myles, said that the war in Afghanistan is America’s third “helicopter war”; the wars in Vietnam and Iraq being the first two. Vietnam veterans flew over 12 million hours in helicopters; so far, in Iraq and Afghanistan, helicopter pilots have flown 3 million hours, he said.
Since the military is in the midst of another helicopter war, it’s no surprise that the 2011 defense budget and the quadrennial defense review (QDR) call for big increases in the rotary wing fleet across the services. According to a draft overview of DOD’s 2011 budget request obtained by Defense News, the military will ask Congress for $9.6 billion to buy new rotary wing aircraft. The list includes:
• $1.4 billion for Army UH-60 Black Hawks. • $1.2 billion for Army CH-47 Chinooks. • $2.7 billion for V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. • $1.7 billion MH-60R/S Seahawks for the Navy.
The budget also proposes that the Army add two combat aviation brigades (CAB) by combining existing helicopters to create a 12th active duty CAB in 2011 and then another in 2013. According to the Army’s top operations officer, Lt. Gen. James Thurman, the new CAB requires the Army add 700 additional soldiers to fill out the brigade’s assault helicopter battalion and support units.
The Army is also boosting the number of medevac helicopters and plans to send a newly formed 15 aircraft medevac company to Afghanistan by the spring. More Kiowa Warrior helicopters and Shadow aerial drones are being added to the CABs to beef up their reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities, he said.
The Army has 2 CABs (246 total aircraft) currently flying missions in Afghanistan and another 3 (643 total aircraft) still operating in Iraq, Myles said. He expected that Afghan theater commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal would soon request at least two more CABs, one to operate up north in Mazar-e-Sharif and another out west in Herat.
A draft version of the QDR, (the official version is due to be released Monday) calls for Special Operations Command to field an additional company of cargo helicopters and directs the Navy to dedicate two helicopter squadrons for direct support to Naval Special Warfare units. The document also urges the services to provide more pilot training so as “to make selected vertical lift assets more readily accessible to forces in forward theaters of operations.”