While many portions of the defense budget are shrinking, the portion allocated to purchasing helicopters is falling through the floor over the next few years.
Recent analysis by the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan shows that helicopter investment will drop to just more than half of what it is now--from more than $12 billion annually to $6.7 billion by 2018.
The Army's future vertical lift (FVL) initiative is a laudable effort to create an afford- able family of aircraft. Even though that includes flying technology demonstrators this decade, it will not deliver new aircraft and technologies until well into the 2030s. That leaves more than a decade-long gap of capabilities.
The United States can still improve the effectiveness and safety of its helicopter fleet without the large expense of buying new aircraft. There are significant opportunities for improvements that can be implemented quickly and have dramatic impacts on military operations without derailing the budget and FVL investment.
Infantry was once considered the "queen of battle" because, like the chess piece, it could maneuver and strike anywhere. That now requires helicopters for troop movement, fire support, logistics, reconnaissance and more. Helicopters, and now some unmanned aircraft, are providing critical surveillance and accurate firepower on surface ships.
Since the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan began in 2001, the rotary-wing community has suffered more than 420 crashes with more than 630 deaths. Most of the crashes and deaths were not the result of enemy action. The vast majority of them were due to the same challenging environmental conditions that have been killing rotary-wing crews for decades--brownout/whiteout, flying into wires and controlled flight into terrain--especially during takeoffs and landings.
Commanders have accepted these crashes and deaths because modern warfare is not possible without helicopters.
Helicopters continue to face surmountable environmental challenges that other aviation communities have overcome. Despite all the contributions to warfare, the modern helicopter suffers from a lack of situational awareness. Modern fighters exist in a world where they launch from a controlled airfield or ship into airspace that is constantly managed by ground or airborne controllers who can provide continuous updates to the pilots. Ships have active and passive detection systems that share information so each modern ship can share information to create a...