The U.S. Army wants to transfer the National Guard’s fleet of 192 AH-64 Apaches to the active component, but a new report from the National Commission on the Future Structure of the Army recommends leaving in place four Guard battalions. The proposed transfer is part of the service’s Aviation Restructure Initiative (ARI), which involves retiring the OH-58 Kiowa and using the Apache as an interim scout helicopter. Under the original plan, the Army would have 20 battalions with 690 Apaches. The Guard would receive 111 UH-60L Black Hawks from the active force to partially offset the lost Apaches.
Fearful of losing its combat aircraft, Guard leadership proposed a split of 18 active Apache battalions and six Guard battalions, using a total of 701 helicopters. The congressionally mandated report from the force structure commission falls between the original ARI and the Guard proposal, with 20 active battalions and four Guard battalions. The Apache fleet size would total 714 helicopters.
Under the compromise, the Guard battalions would only consist of 18 aircraft, rather than the 24 necessary for deployment. That means a deploying battalion would need to pull six aircraft from elsewhere in the active or reserve force. The commission said adopting a smaller battalion size was purely budget-driven, and that Guard battalions would ideally mirror their active counterparts. Despite the smaller battalion size, the commission’s recommendation would require converting an additional 24 AH-64D helicopters to the E standard at a cost of up to $420 million. These conversions would likely take place outside of the current five-year spending plan.
Also, annual operating costs would increase by about $165 million compared to the original ARI. These higher costs would be partially offset by only adding two UH-60 Black Hawk battalions to the Guard, instead of four under the ARI, leaving 10 active and 18 Guard/Reserve Black Hawk battalions. The report also says the Army may have to lower its procurement of Black Hawks by five to 10 per year to help pay for the rebalanced fleet. The Army’s FY16 budget request called for 94 Black Hawks in FY16 (Congress provided 102), 60 in FY17, 72 in FY18, 37 in FY19, and 38 in FY20. Black Hawk procurement rates have fluctuated in recent years due to budget uncertainty, and the FY16 budget has already reduced the number of UH-60s being purchased over the course of the Future Years Defense Program to 301, down from 410 under the FY15 plan.