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Stalled Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) Program Awaits OSD Nod

It has been over eight years since the Army pulled the plug on the RAH-66 COMANCHE program in February 2004.  The Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) program has come and gone and the Service's plans for a new armed scout platform remain in flux. 

With a Voluntary Flight Demonstration (VFD) supposedly planned for this Spring apparently slipping right, an Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) and Sufficiency Reviews supposedly completed (but not released) and with the Pentagon suggesting in late January that helicopter modernization efforts are not highest priority and will slip from 3-5 years, the Army's plans for an AAS to replace the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior are, to put it charitably, obscured.

To shed some light on the Army's AAS program plans, funding and schedule, DSJ spoke with Acting Army Acquisition Executive Heidi Shyu at last month's Association of the U.S. Army's Winter Symposium and followed up with questions to Lt. Col. Courtney Cote, Product Manager, Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, within the Army's PEO Aviation.

DSJ: Ms. Shyu suggested to us in Fort Lauderdale there would be a delay in the AAS voluntary flight demonstrations (VFDs) and indicated that the Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM) had not yet been signed by [Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition] Mr. Frank Kendall.  Should I infer that green lighting the voluntary flight demos are dependent upon AAS ADM signature?

Lt. Col. Cote: Yes.

DSJ: What is the anticipated delay in the AAS voluntary flight demos?  When do you now anticipate doing them?

Lt. Col. Cote: The release of the request for information (RFI) to industry and the conduct of the voluntary flight demonstration is delayed until receipt of authority in the form of an ADM.  It is anticipated that the first demonstrations will occur approximately four months after release of the RFI.  

DSJ: What impact will this VFD slip have on the POM build for 14-18... LTG [Bill] Phillips [Army Acquisition Director and Principal Military Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology] showed us a slide at the AUSA Aviation symposium last month that indicated an October-November decision node for AAS.  Does that still hold? 

Lt. Col. Cote: The Army will continue to execute the current programs at their resourced levels until such a time a decision is made by the Army.  At that time, the resourcing to support the decision will be aligned.  The proposed April 2012 demonstration schedule was based on receiving authorization NLT December 2011.  However; the Army is still coordinating to gain authorization and the schedule has shifted to late spring/early summer depending upon the date authorization is received.

DSJ: Ms. Shyu indicated that the announced 3-5 year delay in helicopter modernization did not apply to AAS.  When does the Army see an AAS program start?

Lt. Col. Cote: The anticipated start of an AAS program is contingent on whatever potential material solution options may be available and what the Army decides to pursue to fulfill the Armed Aerial Scout role. 

DSJ: The Army has been clear that the voluntary flight demos are in no fashion a competitive down-select or fly-off, but rather simply provide a data point for the Army to assess the level of proven technology prior to AAS program initiation.  What is at stake in the voluntary flight demos?   What will the Army do if a system (or multiple systems) meet the identified AAS performance criteria.... or if they don't.  Bottom line question: what specifically is the nexus between the demos and the AAS program launch "decision."

Lt. Col. Cote: There is nothing "at stake" by conducting the voluntary flight demonstration.  The flight demonstration is intended to inform the requirements process by informing the Army if potential AAS requirements are requirements that are achievable and affordable in the current and future fiscally constrained environment.    

DSJ: Am I reading the budget right that there is only about $5 million requested in the FY13 budget to continue AAS AoA analysis and to perform program risk reduction?  Isn't that small for a new start?  Can you explain in more detail what exactly this budget line includes?

Lt. Col. Cote: Yes.  The $5M in FY13 is appropriate for planning. Part of the Army's decision on what the path forward will be the appropriate resourcing strategy.