(Jan. 29, 2016) AH-64 Apache attack helicopters should remain in the Army National Guard.
That’s a key recommendation of the National Commission on the Future of the Army, which released its final report Thursday after one year of study and investigation of the attack aviation issue and several others regarding the nation’s largest service.
The Army Guard should retain four Apache battalions of 18 aircraft each, while the active-component Army should maintain 20 battalions of 24 aircraft each, according to the 198-page report.
The eight-member panel led by retired Gen. Carter F. Ham addressed a broad scope of issues. The 63 recommendations include allowing recruiters to recruit for all components, easing the ability of soldiers to transfer between components and increasing combat training center rotations for Guard brigade combat teams.
In a statement after the report’s release, retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, the NGAUS president, said, “We asked the commissioners to engage Army National Guard soldiers, listen to their concerns and to consider with open minds what this force can and should contribute in the future. Our quick initial review of the commission’s final report released today suggests the panel did just that.”
The commissioners also recommended a “minimally sufficient” Army of 980,000 soldiers, with 450,000 in the active component, 335,000 in the Army Guard and 195,000 in the Army Reserve.
Cuts forced by the Budget Control Act of 2011, also known as sequestration, will reduce Army end-strength to 920,000 troops.
But the one issue that spurred the commission’s creation was where AH-64 Apache helicopters should reside in the Army. The Army’s Aviation Restructure Initiative would move all of the Apaches to the active component by 2019.
The Army Guard currently has eight Apache battalions, each with 24 aircraft.
At the release of the report in Washington, D.C., Robert F. Hale, a member of the commission and a former undersecretary of defense and former assistant secretary of the Air Force, called the Army’s plan “well-crafted” and said it saved money, which was its intent. But it does not provide surge capacity.
Also, Hale said, “ARI works counter to the One Army goal of the commission,” further reducing the “connective tissue,” according to the report, that binds the active-component Army and the Army Guard.
The recommendation would also provide the Army with greater Apache capacity, but it comes with a higher price tag. The Guard battalions would result in an additional one-time cost of $420 million to upgrade 24 more Apaches for AH-64Ds to AH-64Es, and $165 million per year to operate.
To offset the costs, the report recommends slowing down the procurement of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which slows Black Hawk modernization in the Guard.
Ham, who once commanded U.S. Army, Europe and U.S. Africa Command, said the panel spoke with hundreds of military members, including staff sergeants and combatant commanders, 30 governors, 80 members of Congress and numerous academics and think-tank members. It either spoke with or had written communication from all 54 adjutants general.
He made clear that the report delivered to the president and Congress is only a set of recommendations for lawmakers and Pentagon officials.
“None of us at this table are decision makers,” he said. “We hope our report will offer them some food for thought.”
The full report is available at www.ncfa.ncr.gov.