The U.S. Army and Army National Guard have squared off in a debate of the proper allocation of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters between the two components.
The Army has decided to shift these helicopters from the Guard to the active component while transferring UH-60 Blackhawks from active units to their counterparts in the Guard, a decision The Heritage Foundation supports.
As the Army has repeatedly explained, the rebalancing of helicopters across the force reflects a more appropriate alignment of platforms with “most likely missions” and the organizations best suited to carry them out. As the Army’s primary offensive air assault platform, the Apache is being consolidated in active combat units intended to quickly respond to wartime crises. The Blackhawk, a utility helicopter of enormous capability is the perfect platform for state governors to support their populations during times of emergency while also enabling Guard units to augment and expand regular Army operations during periods of extended combat operations.
The Guard prefers to keep things as they are, arguing that transferring the Apaches somehow diminishes the importance of the Guard and demeans the contributions of their “citizen soldiers” to the nation’s defense.
The primary driver for this current debate is, not surprisingly, the reduced defense budget. Faced with a $10 billion bill to upgrade their aged OH-58 Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters and no funding available to pay the cost, the Army has elected to retire the Kiowa, replacing it with the Apache. If prevented from doing so by Congress, the Army will have no other option but to cut entire helicopter units from both the active and Guard components.
In addition to cost considerations, there are also operational matters that should be at the heart of the discussion. In a combat setting, Army aviation battalions are employed to interdict enemy formations directly and to support ground units maneuvering to engage the enemy in close combat. The complexity and high-risk nature of these actions place extraordinary demands on both the skills of the pilots involved and the higher echelon staffs coordinating the tactical engagement.
Active Army units have the ability to hone such skills to the necessary levels of proficiency and fly and conduct tactical exercises in all lighting, weather, terrain, and mission settings from individual platform to multi-unit formations—something that just isn’t possible for Guard units to accomplish by virtue of their organization and operational status.
Conversely, a mature operational theater is critically dependent on the ability to move units from one place to another, effect medical evacuation and logistical resupply, coordinate tactical actions, and amplify the overall operational effectiveness of the total force employed—something for which National Guard aviation units are superbly equipped to do, and it naturally extends from the Guard’s peacetime role supporting state governors and their fellow citizens.
The move to consolidate combat platforms in the active component while expanding the ability of the Guard to better carry out its state and national support role just makes sense. It is fiscally responsible and operationally relevant and should garner the support of Congress.