Speaking at the annual Association of the U.S. Army Aviation Symposium and Exhibition here, Lt. Gen. James D. Thurman, G-3/5/7, told members and contractors that no force-wide transformational change to the aviation force was more important or consequential than the decision to increase aircraft in medevac companies from 12 to 15.
“We’ve got to get our men and women off the battlefield – that’s non-negotiable,” Thurman said. “This demonstrates the Army’s resolve and commitment to troops in combat operations as well as their families and loved ones.
“We’ve also added nine additional medevac companies to the reserve component,” said Thurman, who also formerly served as director of the Army Aviation Task Force.
“The Army will aggressively grow this strategic capability in order to improve air medical evacuation in combat,” he said “The priority will be Afghanistan with the first transformed 15-ship company arriving late spring 2010.”
In an earlier AUSA session, the commander of the Aviation Center of Excellence, Maj. Gen. James O. Barclay III, told members about the stand-up of a new combat aviation brigade, through Army and Defense Department leaders had yet to decide where the brigade would be headquartered.
Thurman elaborated on the new CAB, saying it would be designated as the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade in honor of the 16th Aviation Group whose heritage dates back to the Vietnam War.
“The brigade will be formed by recognition of current assets from within the active component,” Thurman said, “and while all aircraft and crews required to establish the 16th… are already in the force, the Army must add approximately 700 Soldiers to the force to stand up the assault helicopter battalion and aviation support battalion structures.”
According to the general, the next major structural change in Army aviation under consideration by Army leadership involves a potential restructuring of four remaining active-component heavy combat aviation brigades and one light combat aviation brigade to full-spectrum design.
“This decision is being considered along with a decision to restructure the armed reconnaissance squadron to a design featuring three troops of OH-58 Kiowa Warriors and two platoons in Shadow tactical unmanned systems,” Thurman added.
“The manned/unmanned teaming concept will serve to provide real-time ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) support within the CAB and fully maximize the capabilities for both systems so we meet the ground commanders’ needs,” he said.
The general also addressed the 400-percent growth of unmanned aircraft systems flight hours, noting those hours to have increased from 500 hours flown by only three UAVs a decade ago to more than 180,000 flown hours by more than 1,700 UAVs in 2009.
Additionally, the aviation branch trained more than 1,800 unmanned operators in 2009 and expects to surpass 2,000 by the end of this year. Thurman said the exponential growth in the number of aircraft and trained professionals is coupled with providing more capable systems as the enemy adapts to current operations.
“Our unmanned aircraft systems are forecast to reach the milestone of 1 million total flight hours flown in the coming year of which 88 percent have been flown in support of combat operations, so it’s huge growth,” Thurman said. He said the Army expects to have all brigade combat teams fielded with Shadow tactical unmanned aircraft systems by 2011.
“We know the integration of unmanned aircraft systems with our maneuver forces into a single, cohesive combat capability is paramount,” he said.