The U.S. V-22
tilt-rotor aircraft is being equipped with weapons. U.S. SOCOM (Special
Operations Command) has had a GAU-2B machine-gun fitted to the bottom of a
V-22. This is a remote control turret
version of this 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
eight years. The original proposal was for a UTS equipped with a 12.7mm machine-gun.
That has a longer range (about 2,000 meters), but the GAU-2B could lay down
more bullets more quickly. Experience in Iraq and Afghanistan indicated this
would be a more useful defensive measure.
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 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.
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