Sequestration threatens fatigued helicopter fleet

Army Aviation faces cutbacks in training, maintenance and funding that threaten the lives of aircrews and the troops they carry to the front lines and medevac out, according to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno.

“They will go in there with a hell of a lot less capability,” Odierno said of the soldiers flying in Afghanistan and in future conflicts. “That means mistakes will be made. That means we will have accidents, or that means they will be more likely to be shot down by enemy fire.”

Army aviation will be hard hit by looming budget cuts on its aging and overworked rotary fleet, Odierno said in testimony to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees last week, and in a Brookings Institute forum.

A prime example of the Army’s need to upgrade its helicopter fleet after nearly 12 years of war is the Bell OH-58 Kiowa scout, which first went into service in 1969 and last underwent a retrofit in 1990. Army aviation leaders have worked to replace it with the Armed Aerial Scout only to hit repeated road blocks.

Most recently, Gen. Lloyd Austin, the previous Army vice chief of staff, told aviation leaders in December to review the program.The delay served as a warning of what’s to come for most Army aviation modernization programs.

Odierno gave few specifics on the potential cutbacks for Army aviation, but Matt Bourke, a spokesman for Army acquisitions, said that under sequestration “all major modernization programs are at risk” in Army aviation. “And any programs in development are certainly at risk.”

One of those programs in the earliest stages of development in the Army’s next generation rotorcraft fleet called Future Vertical Lift. The program is still decades away, but it’s an ambitious program that Army aviation leaders hope will replace the workhorses of the Army fleet such as the Black Hawk and the Chinook.

Army aviation officials have set a goal of 2030 to field its Future Vertical Lift fleet. However, it will need funding to kick start the development program. Many inside the aviation community worry that funding will evaporate in order to pay for higher modernization priorities like the Army Network or the Ground Combat Vehicle.

In his warnings, Odierno was echoing the dire predictions of the other service chiefs on the effects of sequestration, the legislative process that will cut defense spending by more than $500 billion over 10 years starting March 1 if Congress and the White House fail to reach a deal on deficit reduction.

A major concern for Odierno was training, which he said would be curtailed across 80 percent of the Army.

“This will impact our units’ basic war-fighting skills, and induce shortfalls across critical specialties, including aviation, intelligence and engineering — and even our ability to recruit new soldiers into the Army,” Odierno told the House Armed Services Committee.

The critical battlefield edge that Army aviation provides is mobility, Odierno said, but the cutbacks envisioned could leave the Army in a position where “you lose your broader capability to conduct the type of operations that are necessary for us to be successful” through the inevitable loss of flying hours to meet tighter budgets.

One area that would be impacted is the Army’s Center for Aviation Excellence at Fort Rucker, Ala., where the Army trains its pilots. The projection is that Rucker would lose about 500 student pilot slots and as much as 37,000 hours of aviation training time under sequester.

In his House testimony, Odierno said the potential loss of 500 student pilots would result in about 250 helicopters being grounded.

“That’s significant. That’s a lot of aircraft. That’s a lot of capability,” Odierno said. “Then what happens is you form this backlog, so it will take us longer to get aviators out of the system at Fort Rucker. That will cause us to have even more unmanned platforms because of this backlog.”

“At Fort Rucker, we have streamlined our ability there to train our pilots but we cannot take shortcuts because this is very serious business and we’ve got to make sure that they are trained to the quality necessary to be able be effective as they report to their units,” Odierno said.

Last November, when the thinking in the military still was that sequester was so unthinkable that it would never happen, Odierno ordered up a major review of all rotary programs to gauge how Army aviation measured up under the new national defense strategy.

“Most of the rotorcraft we have now (are) based on what we used to be doing,” Odierno told reporters. “We have to review that and figure out where does it fit and how does it fit. We’re going to do a pretty significant review of that.”

About the Author

Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for He can be reached at
  • BlackOwl18E

    Just another reason we should cut back funding for some of the super tech weapons that don’t work like the LCS and F-35B/F-35C and use it to make new versions of older systems so we can at least keep our basic operations going.

    In the constrained budget environment that is coming upon us we must decide if we are going to have new platforms and increased strain on service members or upgraded versions of old platforms with good training and living standards provided for our servicemen. Either way one side is going to suffer: the platforms or the life styles of our men and women in uniform. We cannot have both.

    • SJE

      The situation is particularly galling when you consider that the Army is asking to replace the equipment they have worn out through heavy use in combat situations. There is only so much you can extend the life of a rotary wing aircraft. Meanwhile the AF and Navy are not undergoing anywhere near the same amount of wear on their equipment, and just want newer and better.

      • Larry

        You could take the converse argument and say that the Army is either too strategically immobile or too weak to be relevant to the current strategic shift to the Pacific. A war in the Far East would naturally be quick and bloody, the geography stressing naval and air power over land power

        • SJE

          Naval and air assets are vital for strategic posturing, and for initial stages of conflict. But if the sh#t hits the fan, e.g invasion of Korea, you are going to need ground forces. Ground forces and diplomacy are currently key in all the low level conflicts in Central Asia, which is currently the vehicle for Chinese, Russian and Iranian influence in the region.

    • vietnamveteran

      Owldog. While the equipment is fatigued so is the taxpayer. Department of Defense is the largest recipient of Welfare. However, I found the money for this upgrade….NOT. Appalling, helping us win the race to the bottom!

      “In the November 12, 2012 edition of Army Times Off Duty, Rick Maze reports on the proposed benefit and pay cut for the warriors, men, and women, families, including: capping pay raises, reducing health care benefits, reforming military pay structure, affecting everyone in the military (possibly not generals),in an effort to cut expenses over the next 10 years.

      On the same page, is a a headline for a story on page 36. Basically, the Army has informed the joint chiefs that they do not need any additional Abrams Tanks. Congress has voted to keep the plant open and funding the operation from 2014 to 2017.

      The winners of all of the Middle East Wars are defense contractors.

      Here is shout out to all veterans. Thank you.

    • Grahame

      The F35 does not work? Big call. While I know the internet chat is that it is flawed and that Boeing says it is flawed not the Air Force says it is great system. The people saying it is a dog have never flown it.

  • Anonymous

    They had $655 billion dollars in 2012. Deal with it.

  • Tribulationtime

    Old planes, Old helicopters, Old tanks, Old ships. Solution? Young draft warriors!!!. It´s cheaper and it free wide range of billions for Defense Cías keep profits.

  • Lance

    Army can save funding for Helicopter by killing unwanted or needed crap like ICC GCV and stop having the army take the USAF’s drones from them. The jerk is just whining that he cant get his way the Pentagon gone from war center to baby zone with generals all wanting to save there pet projects.

    • SJE

      The Army is doing most of the work, and so has most of the wear and tear, most of the casualties, etc. Its not unreasonable to ask why the Army can’t get replacements for its 1969 technology when the AF and Navy are whining to update their 1980s technology.

      • blight_

        The other problem is that not only does the active force need its gear, but the prepositioned stockpiles also need to properly kept up. You may be choosing between keeping the older helicopters at home to push the newer ones to the front.

        The Russians already went through chapter 11 and wiped out most of their old junk. The Chinese are discarding their old People’s Liberation Army for a new, restructured one. We can’t exactly throw out the baby right now with the bathwater.

        The only long-term hope is that this resolves itself in the civilian sector. The economy needs to pick up in terms of tax-paying laborers and tax-paying businesses that bootstrap American manufacturing. Not much good to be the best banking nation on earth when the industrial nation that has had an eye on you crosses the line of departure…

      • Larry

        Are you referencing the 1950’s era KC-135s, B-52’s, and C-130s which form the backbone of the Air Force?

        • SJE

          OK, good call on that. But most of the budget demands in the AF are for the new planes AND most of the AF assets are not, and have not been, heavily used. By contrast, the Army’s equipment is wearing out through a decade of use. In that context, its a shame that the army can’t get the cash to replace basic equipment.

  • Marcellus Hambrick

    Social programs will save us and they need the dollars more than the military. Everyone is listening except the Chinese.

    • Dfens

      Better to give welfare to the poor than the rich, don’t you think? What is our military industrial complex if not welfare for the rich? The CEO’s of Boeing and Lockheed take their $25 million right off the top. They don’t have any programs that are on time on on budget, but still clear 40 times what the president of the US makes. Are you saying that’s your tax dollars hard at work? You’d rather give it to James McNerney than to the poor woman down the street? You and McNerney think alike, then.

      • blight_

        The investors and shareholders clearly agree that bossman CEO is bringing home the bacon, therefore he is “doing his job” for the company instead of doing right by the customer.

        Epic fail board.

        • Dfens

          The customer must approve, after all they pay them more to fail. I am reminded of that every single day.

      • David

        1000’s of taxpaying engineers and scientists are employed by those companies. I think the industry should be held to the standards and deadlines that they commit to. However, I also believe tax dollars are better spent on defense, which is one the few true purposes of the feds, rather then spending money on welfare of which 80 cents of each dollar is probably spent to support a large inept bureaucracy before it helps people who need help.

        • oblat

          When the government is paying your salary it doesn’t matter how many taxes you pay you are still a net cost to the country.

          We take thousands of engineers and train them to be incompetent. One study shows them to be 250 times less capable then an average commercial engineer. The effect on industry of that is quite staggering and directly leading to our economic decline.

          • Dfens

            Hell, they created this whole new field of engineering they call “systems engineering” specifically to take technically competent engineers and turn them into morons. Once these engineers realize they are morons, then they become the new priests of the corrupt system that spawned them, because what else are they going to do? It’s not like they can get a job in some other field or doing some other job. If you want someone to give a good “shall statement” though, they are there for you.

          • blight_

            “one study”…?

      • Musson

        A friend in the Pentagon told me that some F22 part dimensions were sent to every state in the union that had automated manufacturing equipment and a series of test parts were created – but never used.

        This was done just so they could present the state’s Senators with a list of home town manufacturers who were ‘making parts for the F22’.

        Millions down the rat hole.

        • blight_

          Trying to imagine WW2 where we make SBD dauntless parts from all fifty states and send them all around the railroad system…nah.

          The civilian conflict of interest in procurement is scary.

          • Dfens

            Hell, that could have been one of my parts. I had one they kept sending to vendors to cut it out of titanium. Specially certified for the F-22 program, titanium, no less. Those vendors churned out 500 lbs of chips and scrap and not one part. I wanted to put a note on the drawing that the part required a 5-axis mill. A 3-axis machine couldn’t keep the contours correctly, though that was not obvious from the drawing. I was told it wasn’t the engineers place to tell manufacturing how to build the part. Kind of ironic, don’t you think? They get pissed if you design it so it can’t be built, but if you design it to be built by a specific machine, then they don’t want you in their business telling them how to build it. Just more f’ing around that cost the US taxpayer close to a million dollars.

          • blight_

            Govt is paying for it.

          • Dfens

            With our money.

      • Larry

        Technically, given the millions of servicemembers that come from demographically poor and unemployable categories (young, undereducated, little previous job experience), I’d make the argument that the military makes one of the best social welfare programs in esistence.

        • Dfens

          If the money was all going to members of the armed services, first of all, they wouldn’t need nearly as much of it, and, secondly, it would be spent much better than it is now. It’s the damn contractor that are f’ing everything up.

  • Marcellus Hambrick
    • John

      Let’s put everyone on social programs; mThen who would pay the bills!!!

  • Dfens

    Yep, if those helicopters start falling out of the sky it will all be the fault of you damn taxpayers who won’t part with that damn cash you don’t deserve to have anyway. You didn’t earn that paycheck, the federal government did!

  • stephen russell

    & we have 5 carriers sitting in Norfolk NB, like its Dec 7 1941 again.
    All due to budget hits.
    & all our forces suffer.

    • SJE

      RIGHT NOW, the army has choppers and equipment in need of upgrades and maintenance. There is a CURRENT need. By contrast, carriers are for force projection. Even with 5 in Norfolk, the USA already has overwhelming superiority in carriers. It also has numerous supply hubs and airbases, should the need arise. Where is the critical need for more carrier based force projection?. The first priority is protecting current US forces in theater. Equal priority: Chinese computer hacking.

  • oblat

    No doubt if it comes to a choice between the troops and defense contractors Odierno would shoot the troops in the head himself – thats how much he values his retirement job.

    • Dfens

      He put up with a lot of crap to get where he is, now it’s his country’s turn to get crapped on by him.

  • Chuck Mock

    More money to welfare, food stamps and other social programs will fix our money problems…. really. Our defense department should not take the brunt of our budget cuts. Our comander-in-chief needs to see a doctor about his rectal cranial inversion.

    • Dfens

      Sure, why waste that money on the poor so they can buy stuff like food when we could be giving that money to a billionaire like James McNerney so he can outsource more of our aerospace jobs to China? Of course, the more jobs he outsources to China, the more of those damn poor people wanting useless stuff like food. Those jerks, how can they only think of themselves when clearly McNerney needs another yacht at the taxpayers expense?

    • zak

      It’s amazing how folks ignore that over 1/2 of the federal budget is spent on social, retirements and health programs, none of which are authorized in the constitution. Yeah there’s lots of waste in the DoD – the same amount in every other area of government spending.

      • Dfens

        When the LCS starts costing less than an Iowa class battleship, maybe then I’d believe that there’s less waste in the DoD than other branches of government. Maybe.

      • Musson

        Good news. The Administration just announced they will make significant cuts to Medicare. So, maybe you can be happy.

    • vietnamveteran

      Here is $7 BILLION for prepared meals. The troops, which are being withdrawn from “the field” in the sand scrap countries won’t need this. Notice that a “humanitarian ” component is included. God, who does the math on these contracts?

      Ameriqual Group, L.L.C., Evansville, Ind., was awarded a firm-fixed-price contract with a maximum $2,453,387,100 for Meal, Ready-to-Eat and humanitarian daily ration cases. There are no other locations of performance. Using services are Army, Navy, Marine Corps and federal civilian agencies. There were three solicitations with three responses. Type of appropriation is fiscal 2012 funds. The date of performance completion is November 2016. The Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support.

      The Wornick Co., Cincinnati, Ohio, was awarded a firm-fixed-price contract with a maximum $2,307,722,455 for Meal, Ready-to-Eat and humanitarian daily ration cases. There are no other locations of performance. Using services are Army, Navy, Marine Corps and federal civilian agencies.

      Sopakco, Inc.*, Mullins, S.C., was awarded a firm-fixed-price contract with a maximum $2,281,384,955 for Meal, Ready-to-Eat and humanitarian daily ration cases. There are no other locations of performance. Using services are Army, Navy, Marine Corps and federal civilian agencies.

      • blight_

        Government is stockpiling MRE’s and ammunition for the eventual crackdown on free thought.

        • crackedlenses

          And throwing hissy fits at the thought of American citizens doing the same.

          And they wonder why we don’t trust them?

  • Musson

    Smaller, more effective force? Or, larger ill equiped and ill trained force.

    Take your pick.

    • blight_

      More like smaller force that is more effective in its reduced niche..

      • T. Johnson

        Smaller is NOT as effective, while our enemies are growing and becoming better equipped. We need to have larger, smarter and better Equiped forces. Yes our Military costs money, but it is what keeps ‘ The Battles ‘ off our soil.
        We need to have a Strong well Equiped Military to be both Offence and Defence That will be able to face the growing number of Countries that would do Harm to The United States. Defence Cuts or Budget Cuts should be considered only after we look closely at the Threats we face now and the Growing Threats we WILL face in the near Future.
        A Country is only as Strong as it’s Military… We need to be The Best of The Best !

  • Steve W

    You voted for Obama. Live with it

    • blight_

      Magic Mitt wouldn’t be able to stop sequester either.

      • Musson

        Probably not. But this was Obama’s idea.

        (though now he is pretending it was someone else’s.)

  • vietnamveteran

    Berger/Cummins J.V., Washington, D.C. (W912BU-11-D-0011); IAP Worldwide Services, Panama City, Fla. (W912BU-11-D-0012); and Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc., Fort Knox, Ky. (W912BU-11-D-0013); were awarded a $490,000,000 firm-fixed-price multiple-award-task-order contract. The award will provide for the necessary services to provide power plant and electrical services for contingency operations in Afghanistan.”

    Guess who is paying for this? Let’s put up and electrical grid for a population who still uses wood-fired stoves. It’s one half billion.

    China is operating a $5 Billion copper mine in Afcrapistan. Bribe to the Interior Minister of $25 Million worked.

    We borrow money from China, we print money, and we tax everyone, compounding debt that can never be paid, and this will be ruinous to all.

    The biggest Welfare Recipients in our nation are defense contractors.

  • Dfens

    Well, Mom, your son is being used as a human shield against well deserved defense cuts just like I and my family are. It doesn’t make it right, but I and my family are not going to be held hostage so that James McNereny and Bob Stevens can continue to pull down their multi-million dollar salaries while outsourcing much of our defense to foreign contractors. According to a story in Bloomburg, “Pentagon contracts plunged to $12.1 billion in January, a 67 percent decrease from December, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, as the military reined in spending in anticipation of the [10%] cuts that may be coming.” ( Just to give you a little perspective on the game that’s being played here.

  • SFP

    Old planes, Old helicopters, Old tanks, Old ships. Solution? Young draft warriors!!!. It´s cheaper and it free wide range of billions for Defense Cías keep profits.

  • Enriqueta