U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced some of the details of his 2010 budget “scrub” Monday, promising to “re-balance this department’s programs in order to institutionalize and enhance our capabilities to fight the wars we are in today and the scenarios we are most likely to face in the years ahead.”
Among the lessons Gates said he has learned is the importance of helicopters to the counter-insurgency fight in Afghanistan. Coalition forces in the landlocked, mountainous country have complained for years about a lack of rotary lift. But the big shortage is in trained aircrews, not airframes, Gates said. So the Pentagon will spend an extra $500 million “on recruiting and training more Army helicopter crews.”
Indeed, with the glaring exception of scout choppers, the Army has or is buying enough helicopters, including 2,000 new or modernized medium-lift UH-60s, 500 new heavy-lift CH-47s (pictured), 600 modernized AH-64 attack choppers and 300 UH-71 utility birds. The Navy and Marines are also buying large numbers of vertical-lift aircraft.
And it’s for that reason that Gates didn’t hesitate to kill off the Air Force’s only major chopper program on Monday. Since 2006, the CSAR-X search-and-rescue contest to buy 141 helicopters has been awarded, protested, over-turned and delayed … and lately Pentagon officials had questioned whether the Air Force even needs its own choppers, when the other services already have so many.
Gates had promised to eliminate redundancy across the military services. When it comes to choppers, he sure meant it.