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Wittman Chairs Hearing on Future of Army Aviation

Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA), vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, held a subcommittee hearing to conduct critical oversight of the Army’s modernization plans after the service branch abruptly canceled development of the Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA).

“While I applaud the Army’s ability to make hard choices, especially in light of a fiscally difficult environment, I am concerned that the Army’s acquisition strategy on FARA has led to a loss of $2 billion in taxpayer dollars,” said Chairman Wittman. “We need the Army and Department of Defense to make pivots to keep pace with rapidly changing technologies, which include accelerating unmanned aviation capabilities, but these pivots must happen faster and before we have invested billions of dollars.”

(Watch the full hearing)

The hearing addressed the U.S. Army’s modernization plans, requirements, and investments in aviation programs as part of the Army’s recently announced Aviation Investment Rebalance.

The subcommittee heard testimony from The Honorable Douglas R. Bush, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology; General James E. Rainey of U.S. Army Futures Command; Major General Michael “Mac” McCurry of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Novosel; and Brigadier General David Phillips from the Program Executive Office Aviation.


“Thank you, Secretary Bush. We appreciate your perspective on the future of Army Aviation and the challenges that are ahead and the things that you have pursued in the interim. Let’s begin with General Rainey: if we look at where we are today, and you look at the Ukrainian military, arguably they're the most experienced in the area of kinetic conflict against a near-peer adversary, and they've accrued quite a bit of experience there.

“Just yesterday, General Mingus, vice chief of staff of the Army, expressed some frustration with where the Army is in both drone technology and counter-drone capability, expressing some concerns about the organizational aspects of where the Army is with that effort, and we know that we see the world around us. There's exponential growth in the technology and the ability for drones to operate in a variety of different circumstances and the challenge of fielding counter-drone technologies. We know that's the world that we live in, we know that's a building threat, I would argue orders of magnitude almost on a yearly basis.

“If we look at where Army aviation is today, the entire suite of where we see that capability, is the Army in a situation to make sure they provide the necessary battlefield sensing encounter drone capabilities as it exists today? And do you agree with General Mingus that there are some organizational challenges ahead for the Army, and making sure that they don't have this ability today to build it quickly, to build it at the speed of relevance? Would establishing a drone corps, a single-focused effort within the Army, would that be able to accomplish what right now has been somewhat of a fragmented effort along those different lines?”

Gen. Rainey:

“I definitely agree with the vice chairman, and our chief, and our secretary, and Mr. Bush that we need to rapidly adapt to the clear disruption that we're witnessing in the war in Ukraine and two of the major areas are increasing UAS and counter UAS. So I'm not sure what General Mingus meant organizationally, but I absolutely agree, there's a clear understanding of that. It's been a priority for our secretary, and especially for General George over the time he's been our chief.

“So watching what's happening in Ukraine, absolutely the most disruptive couple of years that I think at least back until World War II in terms of technology-disrupting. The good news is I believe that technology is one of our superpowers here in the United States, so I don't think there's a lack of great technology out there in the UAS or counter UAS. I think we have requirements for all those things.

“I think what we have to get better at, and we're all working on this, is rapidly adopting technology that exists, so working closely with Congress to put the money behind those requirements that we understand, and the Ukrainians were, as you know, the Army’s had observation teams in place before the Russians invaded, and we're paying very close attention to that. Some of it is, we got to be careful, because some of it is different than the way we fight as the United States, but absolutely in the emerging air-ground littoral if you will, the first couple of thousand feet off the ground. It's obvious that we have to add UAS capability at echelon, and that's a big part of our strategy.

“You asked about mitigating the risk that we're seeing, if I could talk about that briefly, and Mr. Bush mentioned what we're learning in terms of unmanned systems and technology. We fight as a joint force, and we have great teammates, space-based sensing. So the requirement to conduct reconnaissance and security and sense is obviously not going away — it's been a constant in the history of warfare. We believe it will be even more decisive going forward. So our joint teammates, the Space Force, but also cyber, the ability to sense an electromagnetic spectrum is proliferating, and we have the world's best as part of our joint force.

“Our soft teammates in Ukraine were a different classification, but our ability to work with great partners and employ our huge asymmetric advantage we have in special forces, and the Navy and Air Force are working on programs that are going to be useful in this space too. When you come down into the Army-launched effects, we have learned so much about the idea that you can employ a ground-based or air-based vehicle that can penetrate enemy A to D, and an employee of a variety of sensors. We have three versions of those that are funded. We're increasing funding to those. They'll come online [FY]25 through [FY]27, and obviously we could accelerate those if we needed to. So that's a big part about it.

“And we're adding unmanned aerial systems at echelon in the Army from the soldier, all the way up through core, and those are programs. We've written new directed requirements for loitering munitions, ground-based missiles, so I feel comfortable that we understand what we need to do, that we have requirements. There's no shortage of great technology in the United States. We just need to continue to follow through and move faster, sir.”


“That echelon reorganization you talked about taking place at the corps level, would that include the concept of a drone corps at that level of operation?”

Gen. Rainey:

“I've not personally been in any conversations or thought about a drone corps. I read the recent article. It's very interesting, obviously. We need to pay attention to what's happening, what we are working on. So a similar approach, which I think is on track is what we refer to as human machine integrated formations. We've been working on that for 18 months. They're real. The first two platoons are actually going to be live firing out of Project Convergence next month at NTC [National Training Center].

“So what we believe, sir, is the right combination of unmanned air, unmanned ground, and manned vehicles in a way that optimizes the capabilities of both. Whether those turn into a corps, a branch, the most important thing is building those formations. The one thing that robots and machines are never going to do is practice ethical decision making, intuition, curiosity, the art of command, but at the same time, there is no excuse if we make contact with the enemy with our men and women, given the current state of technology.”


“General Rainey, I do want to explore a little bit more about unmanned [systems]. I know the Army, in their future aviation plan, looks to divest in the RQ-7 Shadow. The question I have is that, it seems like to me, that capability hasn't become antiquated overnight, in fact, we see the Iranian Shahed drone wreak havoc in a lot of areas around the world very similar to the RQ-7 Shadow, so, the issue is it appears that our UAS capabilities, if we get rid of the RQ-7, are going to have a dip. So the question is, what are we doing to close that gap in those capabilities and what solutions do we have out there?

“I think that those things are key, and the question is that we've fallen behind our near peer competitors in the things that they are bringing to the forefront. We see a lot of things that are emerging in Russia's response to Ukraine. We also see things happening in the Middle East that are concerning. What's the plan for the Army to bridge the UAS gaps? So if you're going to retire RQ-7 and there's nothing there as an immediate replacement and you were talking about a couple of years out in the future for both the unmanned systems and counter-unmanned systems, what's our path forward there to close that gap?”

Gen. Rainey:

“Yes, chairman, thanks. So the Shadow is obsolete now. I mean, you can talk about whether it was earlier and we should have seen that earlier, which I wouldn't contest but the next time we go to war, Shadows and Ravens are not part of that solution, so that's one part of it. We have written new directed requirements that we're pursuing aggressively and work closely with Congress because we'll need some help for loitering munitions for ground-based missiles and for a systems approach to new UAS. We think that company level is a good place. There is no shortage of companies that have great capabilities. We will acquire them as fast as we can and as fast as we can move the money this year, next year. I believe if we were ever to have to put soldiers in harm's way we would get the support and could rapidly close that gap.

“I am alarmed by some of our enemies in a lot of ways, going back to my point about affordability of tradability. The mass with which people are producing is something that we're going to have to address in terms of the amount, but as far as technology and capabilities, the Gray Eagle and extending the range of the Gray Eagle, which Mac can talk about, but we're exploring, probably not in this setting because it would be useful to our enemies. But we're employing ways to employ some of the kits that we do have. We're looking at small balloons, we're looking at different ways to sense deeper, so I don't want to say that we have it figured out but we have the teammates in place, the technology exists in America. We've written requirements, we've got great acquisition teammates. We just need to move out.”


“Secretary Bush, you talked a little bit earlier about the interest of private industry to develop and invest in these technologies. And you alluded to the fact that they're sort of looking into the windshield and seeing what the future is. How do you see the Army being able to, as General Rainey put it, quickly develop and feel these systems using off-the-shelf technology, or are we at a point where you all could quickly operationalize that? Seems like to me you at least have explored the concepts of operation for these unmanned systems. How confident are you that you could press the gas pedal and get the motion pretty quickly?”

Sec. Bush:

“Sir, so from an authorities standpoint, the work this committee primarily led in terms of giving us more flexible acquisition authorities, you've done that, so the tools from an authority standpoint are there. 

“Sir, to be honest right now, the main inhibitor, I don't say this lightly, is this long CR. That's one. That's hurting us both on UAS and counter-UAS because it limits our ability to reprogram and do new things. You know that, sir. That's one. We're hoping we get through that, and we can move out on some of the efforts General Rainey talked about in consultation with Congress through reprogramming. 

“Sir, the second thing is, I do believe yes, we can go fast in this area and we've done it at counter-UAS as well. So again, this committee wrote special authorities for the kind of emergency combat situation that we've used twice since Oct. 7 for counter-U.A.S. systems for CENTCOM, sir, so in that case, it was extra reprogramming when we found the money.

“But yes, sir, if we can work with Congress to align the funding or get it to us in a way that's a little more flexible, it would enable us to go fast. You've given us the tools; it's really lining up the money. I think the work the team has done on the requirement for what to procure quickly, that thought has matured greatly over the last few years, thanks to my colleagues on my left. I think we're in a better place to give Congress confidence that we wouldn't just be spending money to do it. It's more concrete, and we'll be able to give you a look across the fight, sir, as soon as we can. I think a classified setting would help paint the whole picture, you can just tell us where you think we got it right and wrong.”


“That's very helpful. I couldn't agree with you more as far as the harmfulness of [continuing resolutions]. That's not the way this body should function. I would argue it takes away from the enterprise, so I'm cautiously optimistic with today's vote that it will open the window for a final determination on March 22, and hopefully at that point you all can press the gas pedal and go.

“Yes, we do want to make sure that we're staying informed on your progress, especially in this dynamic environment that we're in. I think being able to operate at the speed of relevance is more important today than it's probably been in recent memory, so whatever we need to do to make sure we enable you, whether it's reprogramming or whether it's further direction or further authorization, our window is open now for next year's NDAA. So let us know we are standing by making sure that we're there to help or get out of the way, whichever is best.”