Procurement: Big Order for the V-22

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January 30, 2007: The U.S. Department of Defense has approved the l purchase of the 171 V22 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 U.S. Air Force component of SOCOM will use the CV-22 to replace the current MH-53J special operations helicopters. The CV-22, unlike the U.S. Marine Corps version, the MV-22, 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-53, 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.

On the downside, the V-22 is several years behind schedule. It's a very complex aircraft, and has encountered more development problems than expected. It's the first application of the tilt-rotor technology to do active service. The air force is already working on improvements (to make the V22 more reliable and easier to maintain), that won't be installed for another five years. The CV-22 will give SOCOM a lot more capability, but, as it often the case, it will be a lot more expensive. The initial production models 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 V-22 has not been noted for high reliability. It's a very complex piece of work.

The Navy CV-22s can carry 24 troops 360 kilometers (vertical take-off on a ship, level flight, landing, and return) at 700 kilometers an hour. The V-22 is replacing the CH-46E helicopter, which can carry 12 troops 135 kilometers at a speed of 350 kilometers an hour. The V-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 marines expect to begin using the CV-22 in Iraq later this year. The SOCOM MV-22 won't ready for combat for another two years.