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Minnesota National Guard
We do not approve

Minnesota National Guard ~2-stars in Guard blast Army's plan for Apaches~

More Army National Guard leaders are speaking out against the Army's sweeping proposal to restructure Army aviation

There is not one single adjutant general with attack aviation assets who supports the Army's proposal, said Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, the senior Guard officer for Pennsylvania

"I've talked to them all, and the other [adjutants general] are worried, too," Craig said

Guard leaders at the state level first learned of the Army's proposal a few months ago, Craig said

The proposal was made "without any real consultation of the adjutants general," he said

"We do not approve of it, and we made our unhappiness known to the Army and to the chief of the National Guard Bureau," Craig said

The Army's proposal, which officials say is driven by shrinking budgets, calls for the Army to divest its fleet of the OH-58 Kiowa helicopter and use the AH-64 Apache to fill the Kiowa's reconnaissance and scout role

It would pull Apaches from the Guard inventory to fill the gap, and the Army would in turn provide the Guard with UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, a medium-lift utility helicopter that Army officials believe will give the Guard more capability as it conducts its homeland defense and disaster response missions at home

The aircraft moves will then allow the Army to reorganize its combat aviation brigades, which now come in several configurations, into one standard formation All active-duty aviation brigades will have the same makeup and number of aircraft, and all but two of the reserve component's aviation brigades will look the same

This proposal is meant to help the Army avoid losing airframes in a haphazard manner, Army officials said

The proposal breaks the Guard's combat aviation brigades, said Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, the adjutant general of Minnesota

"If they take the Apaches away, we're not like the active component anymore," he said "We always try to have [formations] that look the same, that plug and play, like the brigade combat teams, and [with this proposal] they're breaking the very format of what a CAB is"

The Minnesota Guard does not have an Apache battalion, but the Apaches in Idaho are part of Minnesota's combat aviation brigade, Nash said

There are eight attack aviation battalions in the National Guard, Craig said

Seven states have their own AH-64 Apache battalion; Mississippi and Texas share one battalion, said Col David Wood, director of the Pennsylvania State Army Aviation Office

Army officials declined to discuss the issue with Army Times; officials at the National Guard Bureau did the same

"At this stage it would not be appropriate to discuss specifics or potential outcomes, other than say we'll continue to work together with the Army," said Rick Breitenfeldt, a spokesman for the Guard

Clipping wings

The Army has "a big bill to pay" because of the Budget Control Act of 2011, and it looked at Army aviation, which is "one of the most expensive parts of the Army budget," Craig said

"Helicopters are expensive to buy, expensive to maintain, [and] aviators are expensive to have around," Craig said "But they are absolutely vital to the Army mission"

Using AH-64 Apaches to fill the armed scout reconnaissance role filled by the OH-58 Kiowas is not optimal, Craig said

"There's wide recognition the Apache is not optimal when it comes to armed aerial scout [missions]," he said "Can it do it? Yes, but it's heavy It carries too many weapons"

Craig, who is an armor officer, likened it to sending his scouts out on Abrams tanks instead of Bradley Fighting Vehicles or up-armored Humvees The Guard has suggested alternatives to the Army, but without much success, Craig said

"There's talk of an [executive order] to execute this, [and] we are quite concerned that the Army is going to try to preempt everything and move forward" with its plan, he said

The Guard's overall goal is to keep at least six Apache battalions in the component, Wood said

One option the Guard submitted to the Army would reduce the number of Apaches in an attack battalion from 24 to 18, Craig said

"The AH-64E is much more capable than the original AH-64," he said

More crews than aircraft

Each attack battalion currently has 24 Apaches-eight in each company, and each aircraft has its own crew

The Guard's proposal would put 18 Apaches in each battalion -- whether in the Guard or Active Army -- while maintaining the number of crews at 24, Craig said If the battalion is deployed, it will receive six additional aircraft for a total of 24, he said

"It builds on the Air Force model," Craig said "Usually they have two to two-and-a-half crews for every aircraft they fly"

In addition, "the Guard would go from eight attack battalions to six because all of them would have 18 aircraft instead of 24," Craig said This move would save money while keeping some attack assets in the Guard, he said

The Guard also proposed assigning two Guard attack battalions to two active-Army combat aviation brigades, while maintaining Apache battalions in two Guard CABs, Craig said

"We are a lot cheaper, we're 50 percent to a third less to maintain," he said "As long as the Army retains its Army Force General rotation and our battalions are in that, they'll be ready [when needed]"

The move also ensures two of the Guard's aviation brigades are structured like those in the active Army, Wood said

As for the possibility of receiving more Black Hawk helicopters in exchange for the Apaches, Craig said he doesn't need them

"I have abundant lift in Pennsylvania," he said "We do fly aviation, but not much Most of our state active duty is troops on the ground For every aircraft sortie, we have hundreds of ground vehicle sorties"

Craig also said he's worried about losing talented aviators and maintainers if the Army's proposal goes through

The Pennsylvania Guard has one attack battalion and 24 Apaches, Craig said The unit just returned from Afghanistan, he said

"That's the other thing that does concern me," he said "We, like all the other Apaches battalions in the Guard, have all deployed They're highly skilled, highly trained, and if we go through this, we'll lose all of that"

The Guard risks losing not just Apaches but aviators, air crews and maintainers as well, he said Those who remain will have to be retrained on other aircraft, which takes time, he said

"The turmoil is a dangerous road," Craig said "It's a risk I don't think we should really take"

'Got to look like the Army'

Craig said the proposed alternatives from the Guard can save the same amount of money as the Army's proposal

"This allows us, the total Army, to maintain more ready units for a better period of time," he said "And quite frankly, we are, by definition, the primary combat reserve for the US Army If we are that, we've got to look like the Army" Another sticking point between the Army and the Guard is the possibility that the Guard will have to cut its end-strength to 315,000

Nash, Craig and many Guard advocates support proposed legislation in the House that would stand up a commission to study the Army's future force structure

Sponsored by Rep Joe Wilson, R S C, the legislation would establish a "National Commission on the Structure of the Army" and prohibit the Army from divesting, retiring or transferring any aircraft from the Army National Guard It also would cap end strength reductions in the Army Guard at 350,000

"Let's stop what's going on with leadership not involving, not getting concurrence with the Guard," Nash said "We're all about having to take the cuts Based on the Budget Control Act that's law But to do this unilaterally doesn't seem to be the right approach"

Nash said he plans to send a letter to retired Gen Gordon Sullivan, a former Army chief of staff and president of the Association of the United States Army, who voiced opposition to such a commission in a Feb 11 letter to House Speaker John Boehner

Nash said he's "not picking a fight" with Sullivan or Army Chief of Staff Gen Ray Odierno

"But I believe they're not looking at this in totality," he said "We have the best trained, best equipped men and women we've ever had It'd be a shame if we now lose that" 

By Michelle Tan
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