Army leaders are reaching out to the National Guard after Guard leaders and lawmakers criticized the Army over its plan to retire 798 aircraft and transfer AH-64 Apaches from the Guard to active duty units.

The Army told Congress the plan is to increase readiness in light of the budget crunch that has forced the service to find costs savings and part of those savings involve moving 48 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from Reserve units to the active force.

The overall restructure plan, designed to finish by 2019, will streamline existing systems, said Col. John Lindsay, director of aviation in the Army's operations headquarters.

"In January, 2013, we began to come to grips with the fiscal realities that we were getting ready to contend with. We were facing $3 billion less in acquisition and equipping through FY19 (fiscal year 2019)," Lindsay said.

Officials estimate the plan will save $1.1 billion in operations and sustainment costs per year, he added. The initiative will also retire TH-67 training aircraft, OH-58D Kiowa Warriors and OH-58 Kiowa scout aircraft, and move a total of 192 Apaches from the National Guard to the active force, Lindsay said.

The plan also calls for providing an additional 111 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to the National Guard so that governors and state leaders have more assets for homeland stability missions such as disaster relief, medical evacuation and other domestic security issues.

Some lawmakers and National Guard leaders have criticized the Pentagon's plan to restructure Army Aviation, saying that it disproportionately favors active duty forces at the expense of National Guard pilots, many of whom served alongside their active duty brethren in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It (Army restructure plan) is a scheme built on a foundation of inflated active-component Army training and readiness in order to devalue the future capabilities of the Army National Guard," National Guard Association of the United States president retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, told lawmakers during Congressional testimony.

As a result of the controversy, Army leaders have been reaching out to National Guard leaders and governors of impacted states in order assure them of the merits of the plan and hear their input about states receiving more UH-60 Black Hawks, service officials said.

The concept of integrating more Apaches into active units will leverage the Apache's considerable scout and reconnaissance potential and increase readiness in active units most likely to deploy, Lindsay explained.

"Our analysis revealed we needed to concentrate that attack and reconnaissance capability --with 40-percent less aircraft-- in the active component," he added.

An analysis of alternatives conducted several years ago on the now cancelled Armed Aerial Scout program found the Apache to be adept at reconnaissance and scout missions as well as attack, Lindsay said.

The Armed Aerial Scout program, cancelled due to lack of funding, was seeking a reconnaissance helicopter able to replace the aging Kiowa Warrior fleet. The idea was to engineer an aircraft that could perform in high/hot conditions while executing scout and reconnaissance missions.  Lindsay explained the Army simply does not have the money for the program right now; however, the requirement still exists.

An Army analysis determined that scout and reconnaissance missions can be greatly enhanced through what the Army calls manned-unmanned teaming – essentially drones working in tandem with nearby rotary aircraft.

The Army has already deployed this capability with Apaches and Kiowa warriors in Afghanistan where helicopter pilots are able to see video feeds from nearby drones in real time. For this reason, the Army's aviation restructure initiative will permanently pair Apache units with drones in order to maximize the benefits of manned-unmanned teaming.

A company of Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft will be attached to an Apache attack battalion and a company of Shadow drones will be connected to a reconnaissance squadron, Lindsay said.

The Army now has 4,573 helicopters and plans to drop that number down to 3,775 by 2019, Army officials said. Once completed, the transformation will result in a force of 690 Apaches, 2,135 Black Hawks, 533 Chinooks, 417 Lakotas and Shadow and Gray Eagle UAS, service officials said.

Also, the Office of the Secretary of Defense ordered the acquisition of 100 new UH-72 Lakota helicopters so that the retiring TH-67 training helicopters at Fort Rucker, Ala., can be replaced without taking from the supply of UH-72 aircraft owned by the National Guard.

An earlier version of the plan had called for the National Guard to provide some of its UH-72 Lakota helicopters to Fort Rucker, Ala., for training.

-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@monster.com.