History is repeating itself for U.S. Army aviators. Forty years ago a new generation of helicopters debuted, marking a shift from counter-insurgency operations in Indochina to preparations for great-power conflict in Europe. Today, a similar change is unfolding as the global war on terror winds down and national strategy turns to a focus on “near-peer” threats–meaning Russia and China.
The Army says it needs to replace many of those Cold War helicopters if it is to play its part in implementing the new strategy. Brigadier General Walter Rugen, the officer leading Army efforts to define a way forward for its aviation branch, told me this week that “we’re at the same inflection point we were at coming out of Vietnam.” Rugen’s job consists mainly of building a consensus within the Army for what modernization initiatives should come first, and then framing a plan that can survive annual budget fights inside