Defense Acquisitions: Army Aviation Modernization Has Benefited from Increased Funding but Several Challenges Need to Be Addressed
(Source: US Government Accountability Office; issued Sept. 28, 2009)
The current Army aviation modernization plan, as proposed through fiscal year 2010, includes a combination of procuring and upgrading existing aviation systems, developing new systems, and buying off-the-shelf equipment.

Existing aviation systems include the Apache, Blackhawk, Chinook, and Kiowa Warrior helicopters. New aviation systems include the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile and Sky Warrior unmanned aerial system. Off-the-shelf programs include the Light Utility Helicopter and Raven unmanned aerial system.

Of the $5.8 billion requested by the Army for aviation investments in fiscal year 2010, the majority—71.1 percent—is for existing aviation programs. Development programs account for 11.0 percent and off-the-shelf programs for 6.3 percent. Existing aviation programs are generally meeting their cost and schedule goals, as are off-the-shelf programs.

However, the new development programs have either been delayed or are just starting up.

While aviation plans continue to be dominated by investments in existing and off-the-shelf programs, the Army spent considerably more on aviation in recent years than originally planned, yet terminated new development programs. For fiscal years 2006 through 2010, actual spending was about $30.8 billion—including base budget and supplemental funds—considerably more than the Army’s original target of $21.6 billion (in fiscal year 2010 dollars).

Major increases in funding occurred in several programs: Apache upgrades and procurement, unmanned aerial system procurement, Chinook and Blackhawk procurement, Hellfire missiles, and Aircraft Survivability Equipment. A sizable portion of the increased funding was for replacement aircraft and missiles that were lost or used in ongoing conflicts. Also, differences exist in several areas due to an expansion in an existing aviation program, termination of several programs planned for development, and program changes as directed by the Secretaries of Defense and Army.

Ongoing activities to modernize Army aviation are expected to continue for the next several years, but several challenges exist that will have an impact on those efforts, including managing within reasonable funding expectations, balancing demands to field equipment quickly while ensuring the maturity of the technology, and acquiring and maintaining needed aviation capabilities. For example,

-- Managing within reasonable funding expectations will require the Army to provide long-term funding to support upgrading and sustaining the Kiowa Warrior helicopter fleet, and potentially develop and procure a replacement for the Kiowa Warrior. Furthermore, the Army will need to maintain an acceptable inventory of Hellfire missiles (particularly the laser variant) until the Joint Air-to-Ground missile is available.

--Balancing demands to field equipment quickly while ensuring the maturity of the technology will require the Army to continue to meet current aircraft survivability needs with currently available equipment and develop follow-on survivability capabilities. Further, the Army will need to come to agreement on unmanned aerial system commonality issues with the Air Force while resolving Sky Warrior technical issues.

--Acquiring and maintaining needed aviation capabilities will require the Army to balance its aviation capabilities to account for the addition of unmanned aircraft systems; while many new unmanned aircraft systems have been fielded, there have been no reductions in manned aircraft. Further, the Army will need to optimize teaming between unmanned aircraft, ground forces, and manned aircraft.

CONCLUSIONS

Army aviation has not faced funding shortfalls since embarking on the post-Comanche plan; in fact, Army funding for aviation has increased by about 40 percent. The Army has been relying largely on existing aviation programs and off-the-shelf programs while several new development programs have experienced cost, schedule, and performance problems resulting in termination over the last few years.

Cost and technical challenges in developing and fielding aircraft and missiles, if not addressed, may result in gaps between desired capabilities and available resources.

Given the growth in aviation funding to date, it would not be reasonable to expect an increase in funds as a solution to cost and technical problems.


Click here for the full report (49 pages in PDF format) on the GAO website.

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