TUCSON, Ariz. — The head of the Arizona National Guard is fighting to keep attack helicopters stationed near Tucson as the Army plans to take many of the aircraft from the Guard and concentrate them in active-duty units.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael T. McGuire says the potential loss of a 400-member aviation combat unit at Silverbell Army Heliport near Marana could reduce the Arizona National Guard’s capabilities and hurt the state’s economy, the Arizona Daily Star reports .
The Army plans to keep four Apache attack battalions in National Guard units, but where those units will be based is still being decided.
The Arizona attack battalion has already lost all but four of its former fleet of 20 Apaches, and unless Silverbell is picked as one of the Guard Apache battalion sites, the unit faces possible deactivation.
McGuire said the Army’s plan is unsustainable and would waste the skills of hundreds of pilots, technicians and other personnel. The plan would also leave each battalion with fewer helicopters.
The National Guard’s capabilities and readiness would erode as a result, McGuire said. “We’re signing up for a program that essentially delays the inevitable, which is the removal of all attack aviation from the guard.”
In a move to maintain its wartime capacity and stay within budget limits, the Army initially had planned to transfer all 192 of the Army Guard’s Apaches to active-duty units, in exchange for UH-60 Black Hawk transports.
However, Congress in 2015 required the service to study the issue further.
In January 2016, the Guard’s Apache units got a reprieve of sorts when the Commission on the Future of the Army recommended that the Army keep four battalions of 18 Apaches each in the Guard.
McGuire also recommended that the Army reactivate Apache training at a training center at the Silverbell Heliport. The site still provides training on Black Hawks and Lakota scout helicopter but Apache flight and maintenance training were discontinued several years ago.
“I think now more than ever, we need to consider turning that pipeline back on, because the threats that face the nation today are going to require that second pipe,” he said.
Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.tucson.com