NC National Guard is keeping its Apaches, but are they enough?
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: January 13, 2018
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Earlier this month, North Carolina National Guard leaders learned the state would keep its Apache helicopters as part of a compromise to the Army's long-in-the-works Aviation Restructuring Initiative.
Now, advocates for the Guard are wondering if the attack helicopters will be enough.
North Carolina's 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 130th Aviation Regiment is one of four AH-64 Apache helicopter battalions that will survive Army cuts. That's out of eight Apache battalions that were in the National Guard as of last year.
But soon after news that North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and a fourth battalion split between Texas and Mississippi would remain in the Guard, leaders questioned whether the units will have enough hardware for their missions.
Aviation restructuring has dragged on for several years. In the early days of that initiative, the North Carolina National Guard, like similar units across the nation, began giving up its helicopters to the active Army.
Today, the Morrisville-based battalion has 18 helicopters, down from the typical 24.
NCNG leaders said that will be the new norm for the battalion and others like it. They'll bump up to 24 aircraft if needed for a deployment, they said.
But a day after the Observer reported news of the decision, the National Guard Association of the United States said the compromise that led to the four battalions being kept in the National Guard was based on outdated information.
"The recent announcement that the Army will retain four AH-64 Apache attack-helicopter battalions of 18 aircraft each in the Army National Guard follows to the letter the recommendation of the National Commission on the Future of Army," said retired Brig. Gen. Roy Robinson, president of NGAUS. "Unfortunately, that recommendation was made two years ago -- in a very different environment."
Robinson said cutting the number of Apache battalions needlessly ends the careers of Apache pilots at a time the Army and nation urgently need them. It also reduces the number of aircraft in the nation's strategic reserve, he said.
"Today's quickly emerging threats make readiness paramount, and 18 aircraft are six fewer than an Apache battalion needs to deploy," Robinson said. "This means Guard Apache battalions will never have enough aircraft to train the way they are supposed to fight. And each would have to borrow six aircraft to go to war."
"We know this largely was a dollar-driven action," he added. "NGAUS stands ready to work with Army leaders and Congress to find the money to build the attack-helicopter force the Army and the nation need in an increasingly troubled world."
The Guard likely has an ally in Sen. Thom Tillis. The North Carolina Republican applauded the decision to keep the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 130th Aviation Regiment and said the move speaks to the dedicated service of the unit, which was the first reserve component unit to field Apache helicopters in 1987.
"I look forward to working with the Army, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the North Carolina National Guard to ensure our guardsmen and women have the resources necessary to maintain and decisively deliver a ready reserve Apache fighting force," the senator said.
The decision to keep the North Carolina Apache battalion saved more than 130 full-time jobs, officials said, and the jobs of more than 350 traditional drilling Guardsmen.
The battalion has an economic impact of $30 million on the state, the NCNG said. And its soldiers average 16 years of experience with the aircraft. Much of that experience includes numerous exercises with troops at Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune.
Keeping the battalion in North Carolina will allow the continuation of those partnerships, according to Lt. Col. Brent Orr, the NCNG's state Army aviation officer.
"This decision shows that in the Apache community, not only is the National Guard interchangeable with the active component, but the Guard and its soldiers are among the most experienced in the Apache force," he said.
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