Gates Budgetpalooza: Helicopters, Stat!

09.04.09

Categorie: Air, Finances, Inter-Service Rivalry |

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.

(Photo: me)

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5 Responses to “Gates Budgetpalooza: Helicopters, Stat!”

  1. Starbuck says:

    When American troops in Afghanistan are flying around in late 70s/early 80s UH-60A-model Black Hawks, it’s time for an upgrade.

    We’re literally flying the rotor blades off of our fleet.

  2. Art says:

    The Blackhawk will be around a lot longer just like the Hueys before. It is a proven “workhorse”" which I have flown in both in civilian SAR and with the Army in Iraq.

  3. FooMan says:

    So far the blackhawk/seahawk is a very reliable bird but the way they wrote the maintenance program(s) for the aircraft was such that they were only designed to fly a very limited number of hours a year and had very limited parts available. When the tsunami happened in the Indian Ocean a few years ago my brother was in charge of all the spares for the Navy Seahawks, in the 6 weeks after that flying, like hell to get things done, they burned through 5 years worth of the spare-parts program. Half of the Navy’s Seahawks ended up grounded at one time or another over the next year (worldwide because they stripped the pares from everywhere to keep flying). That is not to say that the Blackhawk/Seahawk is not a fine aircraft but maybe we need to figure out how to maintain them and PAY for it!
    A second problem (especially with money involved) is that the loser of a contracts kneejerk reaction is to sue over the ‘unfair and biased’ results against their piece of equipment. (Hello Boeing, Northrop/Grumman, BAE, Pratt (united techonoligies?) I realize that building a loosing piece is frustrating but I know for a fact that the military has not required any contractor to eat the cost for an unfounded prototype for several generations (the Huey maybe?)

  4. Marc says:

    While the cancellation of CSAR-X due to its acquisition misfires is certainly justified, to say USAF’s HH-60s are a ’boutique’ capability is very disingenuous on Gates’ part.

    John Young had a hard on for this program as well – arguing there were other assets available for this mission.

    In truth, those 141 Pave Hawks are flying their rotors off in Iraq and Afghanistan – not sitting in a hangar waiting for a mission, as it seems Gates and Young believe.

    USAF’s CSAR fleet, like it or not, is the only DEDICATED trained and equipped combat search and rescue capability in the DOD. Sure, there are other rescue assets – but they’re not CSAR assets, and they’re not organized, trained and equipped for said mission. There’s a reason the PJ pipeline has such a high washout rate – its one of the most demanding missions in the military.

    No one in the media who is jabbering about this all week has not pointed out the obvious – that HH-60 CSAR helicopters, when deployed, are assigned to the JFACC (that’s the joint forces air component commander), meaning – yes – they are in fact joint assets. The Army does no such thing with their helicopters.

    If Gates wants to reboot the CSAR program, he has every right. But to say it’s some insular boutique capability is irresponsible – and the guys flying those missions as well as the people they pick up would probably disagree as well.

  5. DesScorp says:

    “The Blackhawk will be around a lot longer just like the Hueys before. It is a proven “workhorse”” which I have flown in both in civilian SAR and with the Army in Iraq. ”

    The Hueys were around a long, long time. And I think Bell’s model 412 (basically a twin Huey with a 4-blade rotor) is still in production (and at a known cost). If we need more choppers, but at a bargain price, it wouldn’t be a bad idea at all to bring Bell’s back into the fleet.

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