Future of Army Aviation: Q&A with AMCOM leader

U.S. Army Commanding General Maj. Gen. Jim Richardson, Aviation and Missile Command, is the featured interview in the March/April 2015 issue of Army Technology Magazine.

U.S. Army Commanding General Maj. Gen. Jim Richardson, Aviation and Missile Command, is the featured interview in the March/April 2015 issue of Army Technology Magazine.

RDECOM Public Affairs

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Army aviators depend on the Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, to ensure aviation readiness with seamless transition to combat operations.

Maj. Gen. Jim Richardson commands the organization of 8,000 civilian workers and 175 soldiers. His unit performs vital work on aviation and missile systems and the supporting equipment required to operate them.

The March/April issue of Army Technology Magazine focuses on aviation and interviewed Richardson on his vision of the future.

Army Technology: Please discuss the role of technology in Army aviation and how it has strengthened the U.S. Army in the past decade of war?

Richardson: Aviation is constantly striving to provide better support to the warfighter through technological advances. As the war changed over the years we had to adapt to meet the challenges of an evolving enemy.

We have been able to meet these changing battlefield requirements largely thanks to technological advances in multiple facets of aviation. Situational awareness on the battlefield is an area that immediately comes to mind where technology safeguards the lives of our Soldiers and makes aviation assets more effective. The pilot’s situational awareness is enhanced through the use of systems such as Blue Force Tracker to provide real-time updates of locations of friendly and enemy forces, civilians, and key terrain. The use and integration of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] also enhances our ability to obtain situational awareness on the battlefield. Systems such as Manned/Unmanned Teaming allows a pilot to receive a UAV’s video feed in the cockpit while the higher headquarters monitors as well. This provides pilots and commanders with the ability to make better decisions and minimize the chances of incidents that degrade the efforts of U.S. Forces.

We match technology with intensive, realistic, high-quality training to produce aviators who can use these improved systems and provide support to ground forces. Our greatest assets are our Soldiers. Technology enhances their ability to meet mission requirements.

Army Technology: What do you want to see in the future regarding aviation advances?

Richardson: Future Vertical Lift is the Army’s program to produce the next generation of Army rotary-winged aircraft. The Army is actively participating in the Department of Defense’ Joint Multi-Role program in order to develop common architectures and modular mission equipment to meet a wide array of requirements with a reduced need for infrastructure in order to support maintenance requirements for different variants.

The Improved Turbine Engine Program is a current program that will create the future of Army aviation engines. It is a major advance in military helicopter technology and will allow AH-64s and UH-60s the ability to carry more armament and more troops further and more efficiently.

The ITEP will allow our future aircraft to operate with more flexibility while increasing effectiveness on the battlefield. ITEP, when paired with FVL aircraft, provide us the opportunity to see the future of Army aviation.

Continued improvement of existing systems is required to maintain our technological advantage as well. Improvements to Forward Looking Infrared systems, avionics, night vision capabilities, etc. will continue concurrently with other advances to provide pilots and crews with the best equipment our nation has to support our Soldiers.

Army Technology: How will advances in aviation technology enable the Army to win in a complex world?

Richardson: The aviation advances taking place are greatly improving our ability to be adaptable and flexible in a changing operational environment. As our forces reduce and budgetary restrictions increase, it is extremely important for us invest in technologies that allow us to maximize the assets available. Enhanced communications allow for a better integrated force and provide increased situational awareness.

Operational requirements will continue to change and our technological advances will make it possible for us to meet these challenges head on.

The training our Soldiers receive will maximize their ability to use these new systems.

Army Technology: What do you expect from Army researchers and engineers? How do you partner with them?

Richardson: First, I would like to thank our researchers, engineers and the Army’s S&T community for the outstanding work they do to safeguard our Soldiers and provide them with the best equipment possible.

The importance of their work cannot be overstated. As a commander, I know firsthand the impact of American technology on the battlefield. The aircraft in my unit took battle damage on multiple occasions, but it was the solid engineering that protected the Soldiers inside and later, that kept the aircraft flying to complete our missions.

AMCOM partners with engineers constantly to meet our mission requirements. We have to be responsive and proactive in our approach to delivering readiness to the warfighter and the only way we can do this is as a part of a team. The engineers provide us with the technical expertise to accomplish this daunting task.

As the material release authority for the Army, I rely on my engineers every day to provide me with an engineering assessment of the equipment before I make a decision on the safety for our Soldiers. They are an integral part of my decision-making process. Nothing is a higher priority than safeguarding the lives of our Soldiers, without the work engineers are doing we could not accomplish this core task.
Army Technology: How will the Army be able to meet its vision for the future of aviation and continue to be good stewards of resources?

Richardson: With increased budgetary restrictions we must streamline our processes to ensure we are being good stewards as we transition from an Army at war. AMCOM is working toward reduced costs with initiatives such as the increased use of condition based maintenance, with its multiple aircraft sensors to assess maintenance requirements instead of replacing components based on time or other metrics. Used properly, CBM could reduce costs to units substantially. We have also improved the training our Logistics Assistance Representatives receive in order to reduce our reliance on Contract Field Support Representatives. An AMCOM LAR is fully capable of accomplishing the tasks of a CFSR at no cost to the unit. The Army is dedicated to meeting requirements for the future of aviation while reducing costs and we will all do our parts to make this a reality.

Army Technology: How concerned are you with the lifecycles of the Army’s current aviation platforms? Why is it critical that the Army research potential replacements?

Richardson: One of AMCOM’s major responsibilities is delivering readiness throughout the lifecycle of the aviation platform. Currently we provide services to support and extend the entire lifecycle such as reset and recapitalization to essentially return an aircraft to zero flight hours. This provides a unit with what amounts to a new aircraft reducing the need for acquisition of additional aircraft as replacements. This also results in a substantial savings over the purchase of new aircraft.

The Army must continue to prepare for future threats. Improvements to our current platforms and replacements of aircraft are ways to ensure our continued technological advantage on the battlefield. With upgrades and replacements being explored, AMCOM must continually meet maintenance demands that arise. The Army must continue to research replacements to ensure the best technology and capabilities are available for our Soldiers. Extensions to the lifetime of the current platforms provide savings and the ability to better incorporate emerging technologies into current and future platforms. AMCOM will continue to do everything it can to provide longevity to the existing fleet while preparing to meet maintenance requirements of future aircraft.

Army Technology: How is the AMCOM workforce positioned to continue aviation support to the Army of 2025 and beyond?

Richardson: AMCOM’s entire workforce is dedicated to lasting support now and into the future. We have personnel deployed around the world to provide aviation support and will continue to meet the maintenance needs of units conducting training and contingency operations.

We recently prepared a plan to ensure the support we provide will meet the maintenance requirements of our force as the Army changes. This started with a new mission statement and vision to ensure our focus as an organization was in the right place. From there we refined our core competencies to make certain we were fundamentally prepared for the current environment while remaining flexible in order to meet future requirements.

Our organic industrial base is key to the support AMCOM provides. The AMCOM depots located at Corpus Christi, Texas, and Letterkenny, Pennsylvania, are national treasures and are a critical asset in providing continued aviation support into the future. They ensure AMCOM is using state-of-the-art materials, techniques and processes to maintain a modern aviation fleet. This base is coupled with a talented and experienced workforce dedicated to providing the best equipment to our warfighter.

We are focused on recruiting and retaining the right people to support our vision and the Army as we move forward. We need to right-size our workforce against our workload while ensuring we have the infrastructure and flexibility to meet emerging threats should they arise.

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Maj. Gen. Jim Richardson is a native of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and a 1982 graduate of the University of South Carolina. Richardson holds a master of science in Advanced Military Studies from the Command and General Staff College, as well as a master of science in National Security and Strategic Studies from the National Defense University. He is a graduate of the Armor Officer Basic and Aviation Officer Advanced Courses, the Army’s Command and General Staff College, School of Advanced Military Studies, and the National War College. He has served as deputy commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood, Texas, and while deployed he served as deputy commanding general, U.S. Forces Afghanistan, and commander of the U.S. National Support Element.

This interview appears in the March/April 2015 issue of Army Technology Magazine, which focuses on aviation research. The magazine is available as an electronic download, or print publication. The magazine is an authorized, unofficial publication published under Army Regulation 360-1, for all members of the Department of Defense and the general public.

AMCOM and RDECOM are major subordinate commands of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness–technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment–to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.