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Interview: Vice Adm. David Architzel

Commander, Naval Air Systems Command

Vice Adm. David Architzel is the commander of Naval Air Systems Command, headquartered in Patuxent River, Md.

His previous assignments included serving as the principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and Acquisition); program executive officer for Aircraft Carriers; commander of Operational Test and Evaluation Force, Norfolk; commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic; commander, Naval Safety Center, Norfolk; commander, Iceland Defense Force; and commander, Fleet Air Keflavik.

At sea, Architzel served as the executive officer, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) and Pre-Commissioning Unit John C. Stennis (CVN 74). He served as the commanding officer, USS Guam (LPH 9), flagship for Commander Amphibious Squadron (CPR) 2; and the sixth commanding officer of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).

A career naval aviator, Architzel has accumulated more than 5,000 flight hours, 4,300 of those hours in the S-3, and the remainder in some 30 other aircraft types in his role as a test pilot at NAS Patuxent River. He served in Sea Control Squadron (VS) 30, deploying aboard USS Forrestal (CV 59), and as maintenance officer in VS-28, deploying aboard USS Independence (CV 62). He later returned to VS-30 as the executive officer and subsequently as commanding officer.

He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics at the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1973 and also holds a Master of Science degree in aeronautical systems from the University of West Florida. He enjoys Major League Baseball and model trains and is a really average golfer.

His decorations include two Navy Distinguished Service Medals, the Defense Superior Service Medal, four Legions of Merit, three Meritorious Service Medals, the Navy Achievement Medal, and various service-related awards and campaign ribbons. He was also awarded the Spanish Naval Cross of Merit from His Majesty, King Juan Carlos of Spain, the Navy League’s John Paul Jones Leadership Award for 1998, and the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Icelandic Order of the Falcon presented by the president of Iceland. Vice Adm. Architzel took some time recently to answer questions about NAVAIR (Naval Air Systems Command) programs, the future of the Navy, and the Centennial of Naval Aviation.

Air Power at Sea: A Century of U.S. Naval Aviation: What excites you about naval aviation today in general and in particular about ongoing programs in NAVAIR?

Vice Adm. David Architzel: What excites me about naval aviation today is the range and scope of the change that is coming – not just coming in the long-term picture, but here in production today. If you look across any area of naval aviation, you’re going to see new systems, certainly, but also new platforms, as well as the idea of how those platforms work together. Let’s start with the anti-surface warfare [ASW] community. Today you’ve got, on the rotary-wing side, MH-60 Romeos and Sierras with ASW principally in the Romeo area. Then you’ve got P-3s [Orion long-range ASW aircraft] transitioning to P-8s [Poseidon anti-submarine and ASW]. Then you have the future with the BAMS [Broad Area Maritime Surveillance unmanned aerial system (UAS)] demonstrator, which will also enter into that realm.

If you look at the airborne early warning [AEW] area, some might say, “Well, the E-2 Hawkeye, that’s the same.” The E-2s that I remember when I started flying were nowhere near as capable as the E-2C 2000 is today, and certainly nothing like the E-2D, which is in test and recently trapped aboard the [USS Harry S.] Truman.

Look at the area of fighters: We’ve gone from the days of pure fighter or attack aircraft to fighters that have fighter and attack roles – from the F/A-18A-D legacy Hornets to the E and F Super Hornets.

In addition, in airborne electronic attack [AEA], we’re moving from the Prowlers to the Growlers. And how can you not be excited about being in NAVAIR when you can walk out on any day and see, not one, but two variants of the Joint Strike Fighter – the future mainstay of aviation for, not just the Navy, but the entire Department of Defense.

I also will tell you about another exciting area where there wasn’t anything before, and that’s the whole area of unmanned aircraft. The wide range and scope we have across the Navy and Marine Corps is pretty spectacular.

So, I guess right off the bat, what excites me most is the changing nature of naval aviation and the tremendous capability and role it will play in the future.

How are the H-1 and the H-60 programs progressing? One of the things that you mentioned was that the E-2D is a lot different from the Hawkeye that you saw when you first came into the fleet. Back in, say, the ’60s, people would see aircraft being replaced by other aircraft while today a lot of what matters is happening beneath the skin, so from the outside, you may not see a change but from the inside, as far as capabilities, there is a huge change.
Sometimes things look the same but they’re not the same. The E-2D is nowhere near the same as an E-2C, even though external appearance may look that way. When you get to the systems level, there is a quantum leap in capabilities between the two platforms.

I also think that, on the helo side, what the Yankee and the Zulu bring to the fight for the Marine Corps are capabilities they’ve waited a long time for. There’s a lot of talk about the Marine Corps waiting for their Joint Strike Fighter variant, the F-35B, but the AH-1Z Cobra is making its first deployment this year and the UH-1Y Yankee is on its third operational deployment. Both these platforms provide game-changing technologies and capabilities.

Other benefits of these platforms worth mentioning are the advantages of having similar glass cockpits and other components. Although you’d look at them and say they’re totally different, there’s a lot built into them that is common and therefore makes them more cost-effective. In fact, there is upwards of 80 percent commonality between the two aircraft. Historically, we haven’t looked at those features. Today, we are looking, right from the beginning, at life cycle and training costs as well as ways to decrease the logistics footprint.

How about the EA-18G? It seems like that’s another program where you were able to leverage an existing airframe and give it new capabilities and save a lot of money.
To recognize the full benefits of the Growler, you have to look at the evolution of the Hornet. It’s been a pretty dramatic success story for the Navy. The legacy Hornet A through D brought great capability to the Navy.  Their development through some significant upgrades led to the transition to the E/F Super Hornet by leveraging off the existing Hornet system. This process ultimately enabled the Growler platform that will replace the Navy’s EA-6B.

The EA-6B has been a venerable platform for the Navy for many years. The Growler is the replacement we need as we reach service life and end-of-life for the Prowler. That replacement ended up being the EA-18G Growler. It is already in theater. It’s operational today in Afghanistan and is doing a very credible job, right off the bat, on its first deployment as it takes over the AEA mission from the Prowler.

Being able to use the same production line to produce the E, F, and G also allows us to purchase these aircraft more efficiently under a combined multiyear procurement contract strategy, saving upwards of 10 percent over a single-year contract strategy. The CNO recognized the importance of AEA for the Navy and for expeditionary warfare and, as a result, we have expeditionary Growler squadrons and are beginning to field operational Growler squadrons in our carrier air wings. We just hosted returning deployers from both the Truman and her embarked Air Wing 3. They were flying the Prowlers, one of the type/model/series last deployments. I talked to the Carrier Air Group commander and was told their airplanes did extremely well in accomplishing their mission, but he also added how much the squadron and Air Wing were looking forward to the Growlers.  Currently there are 45 aircraft in the fleet and the program of record is 114 Growlers to be delivered by 2014.

You also mentioned in passing the P-8 Poseidon and BAMS. Could you talk a little bit about how those programs are coming along and how they will work together for the MPR/ASW-type mission?
Well, the P-8 is a key program for the Navy. We are reaching the end of service life of the Orion – the beloved P-3 of the Navy. Most of these airplanes were built back in the ’50s.

We need to recapitalize our P-3 fleet, principally for our ASW capability, but also for other missions it performs. The development of the P-8 has enabled us to move forward and be able to look to the future which, for the MPR [Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance] community, is clearly very bright. Today at Pax we have three P-8 aircraft in test. They’ve flown over 100 test flights to date, and as we go forward, they’ll continue to test in such areas as flying qualities, flight science, and mission systems. The P-8 has an IOC [initial operational capability] date of 2013.

When we went into the P-8 program and examined replacing P-3s, one of the things we looked at was how to use the BAMS system. How would we use its significant station times and endurance to augment the P-8? BAMS allowed us to reduce our number of quantities required for our overall P-8 buy. The P-8 Poseidon and MQ-4C BAMS, tied together on the network system, will bring us into the future for the MPRF [Maritime Patrol Reconnaissance Force] family of systems. I think it’s a tremendous story and one that is evolving as we speak. We have two BAMS demonstrators, which are essentially Global Hawk late-block builds, and have one operational in theater today.

The ability of the BAMS UAS and P-8 platforms – working together through common data links and the like to provide the common operational picture for fleet commanders and critical intelligence, preparation of the environment, and all the things that they are able to do both for our land sites and our command centers – will be a real game-changer for the Navy.

Speaking of game-changers, could you talk a little bit about the X-47 UCAS-D [Unmanned Combat Aircraft System-Demonstrator]? Norman Friedman has written that this could be a game-changer as far as a capability for carrier aviation. And of course you had a first flight not that long ago.
Well again, this is another one of the areas we’re talking about that is exciting for naval aviation. In some ways, this is like the days of first flights from Kitty Hawk when we were measuring flight time in terms of seconds and feet, to a mere seven years later, when we were measuring the launch off the Birmingham in terms of number of miles and number of minutes flown.

Today, we are heavily into unmanned.  The X-47B, or the UCAS, is preparing to demonstrate the ability to operate unmanned air systems off of the carrier deck, including carrier landings and catapult shots, along with work in a carrier environment and in-flight refueling.

Aircraft like the F/A-18 and the King Air, used as surrogates, allow us to use the same systems that will be on the UCAS demonstrator to validate both the flight controls and the command and control system. We’ve had three flights now with Air Vehicle 1 and a second air vehicle is being readied for flight with the goal to do launches and recoveries from carriers in 2013. While we’re developing Air Vehicle 2, we’re also developing the control systems that will enable unmanned systems to operate in a carrier environment, leading the way for unmanned carrier aviation of the future.

It seems like NAVAIR has been right at the forefront of exploring alternative fuels as well.
We’ve flown the Super Hornet and the H-60 Romeo with biofuels and it is, quite honestly, not a matter of ‘can we?’ Now it’s a matter of “can we get to the right quantities’ and ‘can we resolve the issues of stowage and handling” and “where is the trade-off in doing that?” We started with the Hornet, but we are proving that we can go to pretty much any aircraft with biofuel.

When we look at suggesting ways to fly and how we could save fuel, we’re looking at other processes as well. As an example, we’re flying the Rhino in the fleet today, an E/F variant of the Hornet. It’s getting called on as an organic tanker for the carrier air wings and was flying with five tanks, a lot of fuel. We’ve worked, in terms of engineering, with the fleet to look at using centerline tanks and what’s called “smart tanking” to save fuel. So it’s not just about biofuels; it’s about all we can do to save fuel.

What was or has been your favorite aircraft to fly, and what’s been your least favorite?
Well, you know, as an S-3 guy, if I didn’t say the S-3 is my favorite airplane, then the whole community would say, “Oh, man. He had the chance and didn’t do it!” So, of course, I had so many hours in the S-3 and flew a lot of things in the S-3 that many people never had a chance to do. I had developmental testing on the flying quality improvement program. I watched the S-3 transition from the S-3A to the S-3B, which made it a supremely capable battle force asset. I watched it bring on “the age of tanking” and had a personal hand in that. I’m probably the only one, or one of the very few, who’s fired both a Harpoon and a Sidewinder off of an S-3. So there are some unique things that contribute to making that aircraft always special to me. But I will tell you, the airplanes that I really enjoyed the most – and I’ve flown a lot of fighters, I’ve flown a lot of helos, I’ve flown some other things – but I just absolutely love flying gliders. I love soaring. I haven’t done a lot of it, but when I did, I just thought that there was nothing like it.

Now, one airplane that I didn’t particularly enjoy – and it’s not really the airplane’s fault – was the U-1 Otter when I was here at test pilot school. If you are familiar with the de Havilland Otter, you know it’s a tail dragger. It carries a few passengers, but they use it at test pilot school for lateral directional stability testing, and there’s a reason they use it for that.

It seemed that every time I would man-up and try to fly that airplane, it was connected directly to every deer in Saint Mary’s County [Md.]. I literally had three aborts for deer crossing the runway. But I was willing to forgive and forget until one day I was in a TPS class and we were going down to Langley to look at some wind tunnels. We took off and after about 30 minutes, I looked out the window and I could still see the fence line of Pax River. In other words, the winds were such that we were going nowhere – I think the aircraft maxed out at 50 miles an hour. So after about 45 minutes, we turned around and landed, and that was the nail in the coffin for the U-1 and I.

What would you say is the most difficult part of being a naval aviator?
You know, in some regard, I would say that the most difficult part of flying is to never forget you are flying, and the dangers that go with that. You can’t really ever let your guard down – you have to keep your mind and your wits about you, especially during launch and recovery operations aboard ships. You have to constantly keep in mind your fuel status, where your diverts are, how you’d respond to whatever happens – you have to always be thinking ahead of the airplane. But to me, those very challenges are what made it so much fun.

What has been, so far, the best part of your service as a Naval aviator?
Well, it’s hard to beat being a commanding officer of a carrier. The government and the taxpayer give you the responsibility, the accountability, for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier like the Theodore Roosevelt. You have the entire crew counting on you to lead, and then to be able to see that team – there is nothing like being able to watch a carrier operate at sea, with its air wing, and know that it doesn’t just happen. I still marvel every time I see a flight deck in operation. It’s an experience like no other.

My next question was going to be: What’s your strongest memory you’ve had of your service so far? I think maybe you have already described that, but I’m going to ask it anyway.
There are several memories that go back to individual events – not things that I did – but things that I saw other people do, sometimes without regard for their own safety. I can remember being a young LSO on the Forrestal when an F-4 hit the ramp, and I watched the arresting gear officer go up and do some rather heroic things on a burning F-4 in the landing zone that I’ll never forget. It’s those things that make you realize how unique the whole carrier and aviation environment is and what people can do when they really set their minds to it – that’s what I would take away from my Navy career. It’s unlike any other community in my book.

Is there anything that I should have asked you and didn’t, or that you would like to add?
Just that I am delighted to be here at NAVAIR to get the chance to work with the young engineers, test pilots, test NFOs, test engineers, and the rest of the government workforce. We’ve never had a transition time quite like this in the history of naval aviation, and to be a part of it is a great honor and a thrill.

Finally, and, actually, most importantly, I’d also like to mention that I was a regional commander in Norfolk and Hampton Roads [Va.]. I also had command of USS Guam, was XO of two carriers and commanded the Theodore Roosevelt based out of Norfolk. My wife, Barbara, and I have spent a lot of time in the Hampton Roads area and have worked closely with the leadership of the Hampton Roads Council of the Navy League. I can’t think of a more supportive organization than the Hampton Roads Council and would like to express my great appreciation for their tremendous support, over many years, to myself, my family, and the Navy.

This interview first appeared in Air Power at Sea: A Century of U.S. Naval Aviation 1911-2011.