FORT IRWIN, Calif. — Two aviation platforms that have the potential to revolutionize the way the Army will address future global threats are flying high above the deserts of California this month thanks to the skills of more than 100 1st Infantry Division Soldiers.
Pilots and ground Soldiers from C Company, 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, are putting the capabilities of the new Apache Block III helicopter to the test in the skies above the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, as part of the aircraft’s Initial Operations Testing and Experimentation.
Meanwhile, Soldiers from the battalion’s F Company are busy training at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to do the same sort of testing on the Gray Eagle Unmanned Aerial System later this year.
“Our battalion is the only battalion in the Army going through this process for two Major Defense Acquisition Programs,” said Lt. Col. Ed Vedder, commander of 1–1 ARB. “The ‘Gunfighter’ team is doing the flying the entire time.”
Vedder said that, in light of today’s increasingly fiscally restrained environment, Defense Department officials want to ensure they are getting exactly what they want from these two expensive systems and are counting on the Soldiers of the Big Red One to provide them the data they need to move forward in the acquisition process.
“The goals of these tests are to ensure that the aircraft meet all of the key performance parameters and capability requirements that the Army determined for the program,” Vedder explained. “Once the tests are complete, the results will be briefed to Army leadership and Department of Defense acquisition executives who will determine whether to go forward with a full-rate production build for the (systems).”
CW4 Ronald Porter, the Gunfighter’s senior warrant officer, said he and his fellow pilots will be flying a variety of missions during the testing of the Block III and average about 12 flight hours per week for the duration of the test.
“From deep attack and close combat attacks to unconventional mission sets, the testing is forcing us to find new ways to utilize the increased capabilities of the Block III,” he said.
Porter said that initial testing has revealed to the Block III pilots an aircraft that is able to get to the fight quicker with more payload and provides the warfighter with better situational awareness.
“This is what every gun pilot has needed for years to increase the support to our ground brethren and win our nation’s wars,” he said.
Capt. Adam Marr, commander of C Company, 1–1 ARB, said his team is honored to be a part of the testing of the Block IIIs.
“What Charlie Company is part of, what the Gunfighters are part of, is validating this awesome new aircraft to not only fight the current war but to ensure that we are prepared to meet all future battlefield challenges,” he said.
Apache Block III testing will continue through mid-April and Gray Eagle UAS testing will commence later this year and continue into the fall.