Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America

From Leadership Profile: Vertiflite Spring 2011

Brigadier General Stephen D. Mundt (US Army, ret.), Chairman, Vertical Lift Consortium and President, American Helicopter Society

After 30 years in the United States Army, Stephen Mundt brings the Vertical Lift Consortium a high-level perspective on US military rotorcraft requirements and acquisition. He chairs a diverse collection of 93 US aerospace and defense entities joined to identify and advance next-generation vertical lift technologies. “The problem we have in the rotorcraft industry today, in my personal opinion, is we have continued to evolve our platforms, and we’re not designing new platforms,” he says. “If you want to get into the next-generation aircraft, you’ve got to get back into the think tanks and look at what’s the art of the possible.”

Retiring as Army Aviation Division Chief, Gen. Mundt became vice president of business development for EADS North America, a VLC Large Traditional Defense Contractor delivering the UH-72 Light Utility Helicopter to the US Army. Separate from his corporate role, he serves as AHS President and chairs the Combat Survivability Division for the National Defense Industries Association. “I have not lost my passion for this business, nor my passion for insuring that the men and women who serve this nation in uniform get the very best product possible.”

With roots in Mobridge, South Dakota, Steve Mundt grew up in an Army family but had no burning interest in either an Army career or aviation. “We kind of moved all over the world. We’d been to Germany and back and around the United States.” While his one-time infantry-officer father, Colonel James A. Mundt, served as the Judge Advocate General at Fort Carson, Colorado, the restless student majored in political science at the University of Colorado. “I was a marginal undergraduate student,” General Mundt admits. “I realized Law School would require me to go to school for three more years. I wasn’t having a lot of fun in undergraduate, and I didn’t see myself studying for three more years.”

 The future Director of Army Aviation recalls, “I went through ROTC, so I was not a West Pointer. I wasn’t what they called a Regular Army officer – you were a Reserve Officer back then. I was going to go in for six months, train, and go back home.” Steve Mundt recalls a conversation with his father and visiting General Livsey. “They said, ‘You’re going to go in the Army and love it.’ I looked at them like they’d both lost their minds.”

Early training at Fort Benning and Fort Carson brought a change of heart. “I ran into soldiers for the first time, and I found out that I absolutely loved being a soldier.” Several infantry commanders at Fort Carson were also aviators. “Back then, you could be in a branch, go off and do a job in Aviation, and come back to another job in your branch.”

Aviation On The Side
Application to flight school brought orders to Fort Rucker in 1979, against solemn advice from an infantry battalion commander who warned, “You’re ruining your career; you’ll never be successful.” Flight school graduation in 1980 nevertheless put then-Captain Mundt in Germany with the 8th Infantry Division flying UH-1 Hueys. The aviation platoon leader went on to a company commander’s slot in Division Support Command and then to the armor officer’s advanced course at Fort Knox. “Back then, it was about Combined Arms and how much can you learn,” recalls General Mundt.

Return orders to Fort Rucker made the young Captain an Operational Research Systems Analyst. “They’re really the kind of guys who do problem-solving. They do strategic-level work for war planners.” The Fort Rucker analyst was subsequently tapped as the aide to the Commanding General Donald Parker. General Mundt recalls, “When Aviation became a branch, Don Parker was the guy who was there. I kind of look at him as the Godfather of Army Aviation.”

An assignment as a Huey Instructor Pilot at Fort Rucker was followed by a tour in Korea. Then-Major Mundt returned again to Fort Rucker as Chief of Aviation Proponency and was attending the Command and General Staff College when Operation Desert Shield broke out. The fast moving Desert Storm ended before he joined the 1st Infantry Division. Follow–on assignments made him a Battalion and then a Brigade training and operations officer. He said “I thought I was going to go a million different places when I got a call that said ‘You’ve been selected to come to the Army Inspector General.’ Nobody I knew of back then wanted to be in the Inspector General’s office. In hindsight, it was a very, very good learning experience about the way to solve issues in the Army.”

In 1996, orders came to be a battalion commander and ultimately commander of the Aviation Task Force within Task Force 21 – the Army’s Digitization experiment. TF XXI had organic cavalry, attack, and utility helicopters, and attached Chinooks. “We really had a multi-function battalion which now you call a Multi-Functional Brigade or Full-Spectrum Brigade.” With highly capable Black Hawks, Apaches, Kiowa Warriors and Chinooks in the Army, digitization was a necessity. General Mundt notes, “The issue that aviation had was here’s a force not given a specific sector – you’ve got to cover the Division sector. You had to have the same level of cognizance of what was going on as the Division, so you could keep your crews updated as to where the enemy was and the rest. We were working a lot of major issues about how you stay responsive to the force.”

The networking power of the Comanche scout/attack helicopter remained a distant promise. General Mundt recalls, “When I was a Captain, it was ‘There’s going to be a Comanche in your company.’ Then they said, ‘By the time you get to be a battalion commander, you’ll have Comanches in your battalion.’ Then ‘By the time you get to be a Brigade commander, you’ll have Comanches.’ The Comanche program was terminated when I was an assistant Division Commander in Iraq in the second Gulf War.”

Around the time of the cancellation, General Mundt returned to the Pentagon, ultimately to become the Director of Army Aviation. “The Comanche started off as an aircraft for the Plains of Europe fight, and by the time we were starting to field it, we weren’t fighting on the Plains of Europe. That all said, it was a great, great aircraft. It just was too late, took too long. We had mortgaged too much aviation structure that a decision had to be made if we were going to fix the Aviation Branch. When the Comanche program was terminated, the Army was allowed to keep the $14.7 billion dollars and re-invest them back into Aviation to fix our issues.”

 The Comanche’s successor, the ARH-70 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, succumbed to its own climbing price tag. “First of all, we let out a low-cost request for bids that we knew was undervalued and underpriced. The reason we did that, and it was a strategy, was because we had just terminated Comanche, and if we weren’t careful, we were going to buy another Comanche if you allowed everyone to come in without some price ceiling.” The strategy failed as the government found itself paying growing costs to certify a Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) helicopter.

Something Different
The failure of the RAH-66, RAH-70, and other rotorcraft programs requires a new approach, according to General Mundt. “People talk about acquisition reform. We’ve got enough rules on the books to choke a horse, and yet they’re not leading to better results. The question is, why would you continue to do development the same way you’ve done it in the past?”

“We have entered way too many contracts with not enough insight on the level of technical risk and the cost of doing some of these things.” With industry, academia, and government players, the VLC offers a mechanism to investigate and mature next-generation Science and Technology (S&T). “Really, it’s about supporting technology. How do you build a better transmission? How do you end Controlled Flight Into Terrain? Eighteen years from now, where are we going to be with directed energy? Where are we going to be with a lot of other technologies? Part of it is you’ve got to be able to reach out and look for those emergent technologies and ask, ‘What am I really capable of doing?’ At the same time, look at where are your technologies today that you can mature or grow and take advantage of whatever one works best.”

“That’s why AMRDEC and DARPA, all those guys, are so important getting into the early stages of S&T, looking into what’s the art of the possible. What’s the level of technical risk? How hard would it be to transition from this to an Engineering and Manufacturing Development program?”

On the industry side, General Mundt notes, “There is over a billion dollars in industry IRAD. You can’t take all these companies and tell them what to do. It’s not legal. The “I” in IRAD is “Independent”; so how do you leverage industry in what they do in their commercial development programs? They’re going to build for what they think the customer is looking for, and they want to be able to compete and they want to have the best product there.”

VLC focus is now on the JMR – the Joint Multi-Role rotorcraft expected around 2025. “JMR has really come down to the light, medium, and heavy platforms. When you’re talking medium weight, you’re talking thousands of platforms because you’re talking something that could replace the Huey, the Cobra, the Black Hawk and the Apache. From a business case, most people would say the Sweet Spot to go after in Joint Multi-Role is in the medium category first.”

The VLC looks to share cost and risk. “Government has to put money in a matching way with industry to answer the questions,” explains Gen. Mundt. “It’s more of a technology push at that point rather than a pull. You’ve got to have a roadmap. You’ve got to put money against it, because if you’re not willing to invest, why should industry?

“We continue to tell ourselves we cannot afford competition, so we down-select way too early in the process. I’m a firm believer that if you’re not competing with somebody, you’re not running your best race. We’ve got to come up with a way that allows industry to come up with FAA experimental-type aircraft which are cheaper to do. While you’re doing that, you want to have as many people as possible take part in the experimental design piece. You want to down-select, but you still want to keep competition to two or three different vendors, and you want to lead them to a production decision to reduce risk in that.”

Gen. Mundt adds, “I also disagree with folks who say COTS is a failure. That is not true if you look at where Sikorsky is going with the X2, or where John Piasecki is going with the X-49, if you look at the things that other companies are doing, even Eurocopter with the X3. Companies will develop technologies just like airplanes. What the government has to recognize is you can’t do it by yourself.”

“The issue with industry is not that industry is not capable. We have got to get over this idea of it’s-not-invented-here. What we get into is this situation where ‘I’m competing, so I can’t look outside.’ The same is true about how we look external to the United States. ”

Gen. Mundt concludes, “We have got to find ways to put that competitive edge back in industry. We want to grow and maintain that capability. We can’t allow our capability to atrophy, because you can’t recover from that.”