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Army plans to cut 3 of 13 aviation brigades by 2019

Mar. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The US Army plans on cutting three of its 13 combat aviation brigades by 2019.
The US Army plans on cutting three of its 13 combat aviation brigades by 2019. (US Army)
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WASHINGTON — Army officials said Tuesday that as part of its wide-ranging aviation restructuring, the service is preparing to cut three of the service’s 13 combat aviation brigades (CAB) by 2019.

The service’s active component currently fields four heavy CABs, 8 medium, and 1 with “Full-Spectrum” capabilities, but Davis Welch, deputy director of the Army budget office told reporters at the Pentagon today that “the restructure will reduce the number of aviation brigades by three in the active component while restructuring aviation brigades to optimize their efficiency and quality.”

He added that under the plan, the Army’s Reserve component will be able maintain its 12 aviation brigades but they “will be restructured and optimized for assault, lift and medavac missions.”

The announcement comes on the heels of the Army’s proposal to take all of the National Guard’s Apache attack helicopters to fulfill the active army’s aerial scout mission after it divests itself of the Kiowa helicopters currently fulfilling that mission.

At the time of this posting, requests for further comment from the Army were unanswered.

Overall, the Army’s fiscal year 2015 request sees the budget for its aircraft fleet tick slightly upward from $4.6 billion ($5 billion requested) in 2014 to $5.1 billion, while the Apache helicopter’s budget will fall from $884 million — $1 billion with Overseas Contingency Operations in 2014 — to $775 million in 2015 so it can upgrade 25 birds to the latest configuration.

There is another $416 million for 55 new Lakota helicopters, with sources saying that the service will request funding to buy 45 more Lakotas in 2016.

The Army is also slated to receive $7.5 billion of the $26 billion for the Opportunity Growth and Security Initiative, 54 percent of which will go toward operations, maintenance and training accounts, while the rest will be pointed to equipment modernization, including $500 million for Black Hawk helicopter upgrades, and more than $600 million for Apache work.

Overall however, the year-by-year budget graph that accompanied the Army’s budget request showed a significant cascade down from the 2010 budget onward.

The Army is asking for $121 billion in its base budget in ’15, down only $4 billion from the $125 billion enacted for 2014 — but down significantly from the $144 billion granted in ’10 during the height of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the big cuts aren’t in the base. The biggest drop is in the wartime spending accounts, which for the Army has dropped by more than half from 2011 to 2014 — going from $99 billion to $43 billion.

That said, the requested budget remains largely flat form 2014, with about $1.3 billion less in research, development and acquisition and $1.8 billion in operations and maintenance. Personnel costs remained flat at $56 billion.

Personnel costs continue to be the albatross hanging around the Army’s neck, eating up 46 percent of the service’s budget overall even as the service continues to shed 20,000 soldiers a year in its effort to reach 490,000 by the end of 2015. It’s current end strength is about 510,000.

But those troops will have to get by with much less training than Army leadership has advocated for.

Training is expected to reach only to company level and, in some cases, battalion level in 2015, with the National Guard performing mostly company level and below training exercises due to lack of funding. The Army will only send those brigades through a full National Training Center rotation that are planning to deploy to Afghanistan or South Korea, or that are part of the 82nd Airborne’s global response force.

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