A member of the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday said the panel needs to take action to ensure it does not regret allowing the active-duty Army to take Apache helicopters away from the National Guard.
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Arkansas, said the Army’s bid to swap more UH-60 Black Hawk missions for the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter is moving too quickly and more thought needs to go into it. Congress inserted language into the National Defense Authorization Act that postpones any significant change until after April 1, 2016.
“In my opinion the NDAA serves as a Band-Aid to what amounts to an open wound, and if the Army is allowed to transfer the aircraft after April next year they’ll probably be gone from the reserve component forever,” Womack said.
He warned that the committee needs to make sure “we don’t live to regret an action by the Army that I think will be devastating to the Guard.”
The $6.7 billion budget proposed for the National Guard next year already has come under fire not only for the loss of Apache missions, but the planned elimination of some 8,200 soldier slots.
The move is part of the Army’s Aviation Restructuring Initiative, which – among other things – will also permanently pair Army Apache units with unmanned aerial vehicles. Apache OH-58D Kiowa pilots deployed to Afghanistan can already see video feeds in real time from nearby drones.
State governors have come out loudly opposed to the plan and helped push Congress into delaying the swap this year.
The National Guard Association of the United States, which lobbies for Guard interests, also is critical of the move, which it says will hurt the Guard and active-duty force over time.
“You take the Apaches out of the Guard and all that experience of pilots is gone. And the maintainers are gone,” NGAUS spokesman John Goheen said. If the mission goes away there is no reason for any to remain, eliminating the “strategic depth” of experience and capability that the Guard represents for the Army, he said.
In exchange for taking over the Guard’s Apaches – which number about 190 – the Army would turn over to about 100 Black Hawk helicopters, of which the Guard already has some 900 in its fleet, according to Goheen.
The Army is awaiting a report from its Commission on the Future of the Army, which is expected to be turned in next February – a month before the Army will be able to begin moving any number of the Apaches out of state Guard units.
“From our standpoint … we would like to see Congress put a hold on everything through the end of fiscal year 2016 in order to give the commission an opportunity to do its work and give Congress time to digest what the commission is recommending,” Goheen said.
– Bryant Jordan can be reached at email@example.com