March 1, 2010:
The U.S. Marine Corps are becoming more aggressive in the use of the ten MV-22 tilt rotor transports they have in Afghanistan. Four months ago, they flew them in from an amphibious assault ship off the coast of Pakistan. Another two MV-22s are being sent, because the marines have found the MV-22 useful in combat operations. For example, the MV-22s can move twice as fast as helicopters, and that enables them to be more effective in getting quick reaction forces into position to cut off and capture fleeing Taliban. Some MV-22 have come under fire, but none have been hit, yet.
MV-22 first went to a combat zone in late 2007, when they were sent to Iraq. The high speed and altitude (about 9,000 feet), kept the aircraft out range of enemy weapons. Helicopters fly lower and slower. To do otherwise would further reduce the range of a helicopter.
The MV-22 can defend itself. Most (and soon all) of the MV-22s sent to Afghanistan will be equipped with a GAU-2B machine-gun fitted to the bottom of the aircraft. The GAU-2B is a remote control turret using a six-barrel 7.62mm machine-gun. This system has a rate of fire of 3,000 rounds per minute (50 per second), and max range of 1,500 meters. The system weighs a few hundred pounds and includes 4,000 rounds of ammo. A member of the crew uses a video game like interface to operate the gun. 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. That has a longer range (about 2,000 meters, compared to 1,500), but the 7.62mm GAU-2B could lay down more bullets more quickly. Experience in Iraq and Afghanistan indicated this would be a more useful defensive measure. The UTS is mounted on MV-22s (and SOCOM CV-22s) as needed. The machine-gun turret is mainly there for protection from local threats, not for turning the V-22 into an assault aircraft. The marines also plan to mount an M-2 12.7mm machine-gun on the rear ramp as well. Currently they sometimes use a 7.62mm machine-gun there, but the 12.7mm weapon has been successfully used on the rear ramp of large helicopters.
The marine MV-22s can carry 24 troops 700 kilometers (vertical take-off, 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.