Defense budget would replace Rucker training helicopters
While the Department of Defense’s recommendation to reduce the size of the Army by as many as 130,000 troops from its post-9/11 peak could certainly affect commerce in and around Fort Rucker, some of the post’s training fleet is scheduled to undergo a significant change.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s budget request to Congress is expected to include a recommendation to retire the current fleet of Bell TH-67 Jet Ranger training helicopters and replace them with EADS UH-72 Lakotas.
The Lakotas would come to Fort Rucker from the National Guard as well as the Army’s active fleet.
U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, said in a prepared statement that while some budget reductions are inevitable, the training fleet change would be good for Fort Rucker.
“I have been personally engaged in discussions surrounding the Army’s planned changes. As it stands, the plan would have a positive impact on Fort Rucker and the critical training mission at the Army Aviation Center of Excellence,” Roby said,
Opinions appear to be mixed on whether the training fleet change would be an upgrade from the current Jet Rangers, or whether the change would result in a cost savings. The Lakota is a twin engine aircraft and the Jet Ranger is single engine, which would likely result in a change of simulators as well. It is also likely that new maintenance contracts would have to be negotiated.
However, Bell no longer makes the TH-67 and repair has been an issue.
It is not known when the changeover would take place if Congress approves the budget proposal.
The training fleet change is not the only significant change to Army Aviation. The Department of Defense is recommending the Army scrap its Kiowa Warrior fleet and instead use its current Apaches as well as Apaches taken from the National Guard to serve as scout helicopters. The National Guard would receive some Black Hawk helicopters in return.
The Army Times reported recently that the Army has 338 active Kiowa helicopters. The National Guard has an additional 30 Kiowas.
The changes would amount to an overall reduction of the Army’s helicopter fleet by 25 percent, according to Hagel. The National Guard fleet would be reduced by about eight percent.
“These changes to the Guard’s helicopter fleet are part of a broader realignment of Army aviation designed to modernize its fleet and make it highly capable and more affordable,” Hagel said in prepared remarks earlier this week. “The Active Army’s overall fleet would decrease by about 25 percent, but it would be significantly modernized under the President’s budget plan.”
Hagel’s recommendation calls for Army troop strength to fall to between 440,000 and 450,000 by 2019 from its current level of 522,000, according to USA Today.
Additionally, Hagel will ask Congress to authorize another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) for 2017. BRAC is a process through which the Department of Defense shutters unnecessary installations and/or moves missions from one installation to another. The last BRAC occurred in 2005, resulting in a slight loss of personnel for Fort Rucker after the Army recommended moving the Army Aviation Technical Test Center to Redstone Arsenal.
The Dothan City Commission voted last year to give $131,000 to the Friends of Fort Rucker, an advocacy group created to protect Fort Rucker from the next round of BRAC and to search for opportunities to add missions to Fort Rucker through BRAC. Other Wiregrass communities have allocated funds to the Friends of Fort Rucker as well. Part of the money is being used to hire a consultant to assist the efforts.
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