January 25, 2008:
The U.S. Marine Corps has had ten MV-22 Osprey
tilt rotor aircraft (a squadron) in Iraq for five months now [PHOTOS]. The marines
wanted combat experience for their new aircraft, and they got it. This enabled
the marines to find out what the MV-22 did best. As expected, the higher speed
and cruising altitude of the MV-22 was very useful. Moving troops to where they
are needed, or getting badly wounded marines to a hospital, were things the
MV-22 excelled at, moving at twice the speed of the helicopters previously used.
Cruising at a higher altitude (10,000 feet or more) than helicopters, and
moving faster, gave the enemy much less opportunity to get off a shot, much
less score a hit. The heavy use also revealed which parts were likely to wear
out when, something you never really find out until you get the aircraft into a
combat zone. The modern cockpit, including auto-pilot, makes the MV-22 much easier to fly than the helicopters they replace.
The V-22 is a complex piece of work, and
this has resulted in a lot of development delays. At the moment, the U.S.
Department of Defense has approved the purchase of 171 V-22 aircraft for the
U.S. Marine Corps, and 31 for U.S. Air Force units operating with SOCOM
(Special Operations Command). The plan involves buying up to 35 V-22s a year,
from 2008 to 2013.
The marine MV-22s can carry 24 troops
700 kilometers (vertical take-off on a ship, level flight, landing, and return)
at 400 kilometers an hour. The MV-22 is replacing the CH-46E helicopter, which
can carry 12 troops 350 kilometers at a speed of 200 kilometers an hour. The
MV-22 can carry a 10,000-pound external sling load 135 kilometers, while the
CH-46E can carry 3,000 pounds only 90 kilometers.
The U.S. Air Force component of SOCOM
will use the V-22 to replace the current MH-53J special operations helicopters.
Unlike the U.S. Marine Corps version, the SOCOM CV-22B will have lots more
expensive electronics on board. This will help the CV-22 when traveling into
hostile territory. The CV-22 also carries a terrain avoidance radar, an
additional 900 gallons of fuel and more gadgets in general. The 25 ton CV-22 is
a major improvement on the MH-53J, with three times the range, and a higher
cruising speed (at 410 kilometers an hour, twice that of the helicopter). The CV-22 can travel about nearly a thousand kilometers, in any weather, and land
or pick up 18 fully equipped commandoes. The SOCOM CV-22 won't ready for combat
for another two years.
The V-22 is the first application of
the tilt-rotor technology to do active service. The air force is already
working on improvements (to make the V-22 more reliable and easier to maintain),
but these won't be installed for another
four years. The V-22 will give the marines and SOCOM a lot more capability,
but, as it often the case, it will be a lot more expensive. The initial
production models of the CV-22 will cost close to $100 million each. SOCOM
insists on a high degree of reliability for its aircraft. Commando operations
cannot tolerate too many mistakes without getting fatally derailed.
The other services, and particularly
SOCOM, have watched the marine experience with the MV-22 in Iraq, with great
interest. SOCOM was relieved to see that the MV-22 stood up well to constant use
in a combat environment.