September 2, 2012: Last year the U.S. Marine Corps ordered a dozen DSW (Interim Defensive Weapons System) turret gun kits for its hundred MV-22 tilt-rotor transports, for about a million dollars each. MV-22 crews are now training with these new weapons.
DSA is designed to be an easily installed (on the rear ramp or underneath the V-22) remote control turret using a three-barrel 7.62mm GAU-17 machine-gun. This system has a rate of fire of up to 1,500-3,000 rounds per minute (25-50 per second) and max range of 1,500 meters. The system weighs under 100 kg (220 pounds) and includes 4,000 rounds of ammo. A member of the crew uses a video game like interface to operate the gun.
The DWS is only mounted on a V-22 if a mission might be in need of some firepower. The DWS can swivel completely (360 degrees) around (useful when mounted underneath). It was apparently this weapon that was carried by an MV-22 sent to pick up the pilot and weapons operator who had to bail out of a disabled F-15E in Libya last year. The DWS was tested in Afghanistan two years ago, but now that production models have been delivered, all MV-22 squadrons are being given an opportunity to mount a turret on some of its aircraft and try out the weapon using live ammo.
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 and sometimes has to land in areas where the locals are firing at them. 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 uses the CV-22 to replace the current MH-53J special operations helicopters. Unlike the U.S. Marine Corps version, the SOCOM CV-22B has a lot 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 3,600 liters (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 a thousand kilometers, in any weather, and land or pick up 18 fully equipped commandoes. The SOCOM CV-22 won't be ready for combat for another two years.
SOCOM has had a GAU-2B machine-gun fitted to the bottom of a V-22. This weapon is part of the Universal Turret System (UTS) for Helicopters. Plans for arming the V-22 have been discussed for nearly a decade. The original proposal was for a UTS equipped with a 12.7mm machine-gun, which has a longer range (about 2,000 meters). However, the 7.62mm GAU-17 can lay down more bullets more quickly and usually does so at low speed (1,500 rounds a minute). Experience in Iraq and Afghanistan indicated this would be a more useful defensive measure. Like the marine turret, the SOCOM one is mounted on CV-22s as needed. The armed SOCOM V-22 provides an option that the other users can easily adopt. The machine-gun turret is mainly there for protection from local threats, not for turning the V-22 into an assault aircraft.
The V-22 is the first application of the tilt-rotor technology in active service. The air force is already working on improvements (to make the V-22 more reliable and easier to maintain). The MV-22 gives the marines and SOCOM a lot more capability but, as it often the case, this is a lot more expensive. The initial production models of the CV-22 cost over $60 million each. SOCOM insists on a high degree of reliability for its aircraft. Commando operations cannot tolerate too many mistakes without getting fatally derailed.