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An 'appetite suppressant' for Army aviation

The top leaders of Army Aviation, known inside the family as "the Four Horsemen," said Monday they're bearing the brunt of the Army's grueling deployment schedule. Helicopter units go in on the first day of the war and they must stay until the last, the leaders said, making for a disproportionate amount of wear on soldiers and aircraft.

There's a light at the distant end of the tunnel -- Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, head of the Army's Program Executive Office for Aviation, says the service is aiming at a new joint, multi-role helicopter by 2030, one that will be able to handle both attack and utility missions. The ins and outs of that goal are a whole other story, and in the meantime, the Army must do something to bridge the gap.

That means the aviation branch needs to take "an appetite suppressant," said Maj. Gen. Tony Cruchfield, who commands the Army Aviation Center of Excellence. In this situation, it means the Army has to "accept risk, sustain older systems, be really smart, do budget analysis and figure out the biggest bang," Crosby said.

For example, when it comes to one of the biggest near-term priorities -- doing something about its battered old scout helicopter fleet -- that will mean one of two choices. Either the Army does a service life extension for its OH-58 Kiowa Warriors, or it buys what Crosby called a "COTS system," i.e. a consumer, off-the-shelf helicopter as a stopgap solution. The Army wants to begin to look at possible competitors soon, with a goal of having demonstrations around April. It won't be a fly-off and it won't be an operational test, Crosby stressed -- it'll just help officials learn more about what's out there.

In the long term, the Army hopes discipline today will pay off with new helicopters in the long term, which will be essential because the current fleet cannot keep flying forever.

"I don't want my grandson flying the [AH-64 Apache] Longbow Block 80. I don't want my grandson flying the CH-47 Zulu," Crutchfield said. "Taking an appetite suppressant to fill the armed aerial scout capability is what we need to get us to a point where we can fly something that is new, that does lift more, that has a reduced logistical footprint. It won’t be the airframes we have now, no matter how much money we put in them."

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