Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Army aviation suppliers could see slowdown as force changes tempo

With troop drawdowns already on the agenda and looming threats of sequestration, Army aviation is bracing for changes in the near future. Such changes will also impact suppliers who work with the military, according to Major Gen. Lynn Collyar, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command based at Redstone Arsenal.

Collyar was one of the speakers during an aviation symposium hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army at National Harbor in Maryland earlier this month. He was joined by Major Gen. William T. Crosby, Program Executive Office Aviation, also based on Redstone.

The end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and planned force reductions in the coming year will mean a slower tempo for Army aviation, Collyar said, which means it will be using fewer supplies than before. This slowdown impacts suppliers, who are required to have all their equipment tested and certified before they can sell to the Army.

Fewer orders for new equipment make it harder for suppliers to know how much raw materials will be needed and more difficult to schedule their own workloads. And, Collyar said, a supply that once would have lasted only months may now last years, leaving the supplier with an excess of inventory.

"How do I keep the small manufacturer in business as I draw (on) that two years of stock? How do I draw that down and still buy enough from the manufacturers to keep them economically viable?" Collyar said at the symposium.

Collyar suggested the Army should show manufacturers what it has in stock and its projected usage rates.

"It really comes down to partnering," Collyar said.

Crosby said another alternative would be opening up military sales to foreign nations. This would help the American defense industrial base weather the changes at home, he said.

"When we slow down production, to maintain and sustain that industrial base, it behooves us to help our original equipment manufacturers partner with those customers. And sometimes, by nature of when they come in to procure something, they can procure an upgrade we are unable to afford," Crosby said. "Not only does that keep the production line warm, it is then something that can flow over into our side."

Crosby said potential partners include European and Pacific nations.

Collyar and Crosby said the new fiscal environment is prompting Army aviation to look at long-term planning and ways to invest in platforms that are both durable and sustainable.

Collyar said many people think the cost of a system is 30 percent procurement, 70 percent sustainment. However, he said, such a breakdown is for a system with a 20-year lifecycle, as opposed to today's systems with a 30-to-50 year lifecycle. That changes the breakdown to 20/80 or even 10/90, he said, and requires even greater long-range planning.

 "Knowing that a platform is going to be there for 20 or 30 years, is that the same platform we need today that we are going to need 30 years from now?" he asked.

Collyar said one way to prolong a system's viability is to design it so it can be upgraded in the future at a lower cost. Crosby agreed but said the older the platform, the harder it is to upgrade. He cited Chinook and Black Hawk as examples.

"The challenge we have is how do we keep those platforms viable ... so far as technology insertion," he said. "The platform is what we have, but how do we insert these new technologies? We can't continue to strap on tools. We've got to find a way with these digitized platforms to integrate those systems and upgrade them without re-designing them."

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