Special Operations: Hustling The CV-22


May 1,2008: SOCOM and the U.S. Air Force have watched the U.S. Marine Corps use of the V-22 aircraft in Iraq with great interest. They liked what they saw, and plan to put their own CV-22s into action by the end of this year, rather than early next year, as was the plan.

The marines wanted combat experience for their new aircraft, and they got it during the last six months. This enabled the marines to find out what the V-22 did best. As expected, the higher speed and cruising altitude of the V-22 was most useful. Moving troops to where they are quickly needed, or getting badly wounded marines to a hospital in time, were things the V-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 V22 is a complex piece of work, and this resulted in a lot of development delays. At the moment, the U.S. Department of Defense has approved the purchase of 141 V-22 aircraft for the U.S. Marine Corps, and 26 for U.S. Air Force units operating with SOCOM (Special Operations Command). The plan involves buying up to 33 V-22s a year, from 2008 to 2013.

The marine MV-22s carry 24 troops 700 kilometers at 400 kilometers an hour. The V-22 is replacing the CH-46E helicopter, which can carry 12 troops 350 kilometers at a speed of 200 kilometers an hour. Over a hundred V-22s have been delivered so far, and the engines of the V-22s in Iraq each have about 400 hours on them.

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-22 will have lots more expensive electronics on board. This will help the MV-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.

SOCOM will probably only send a few CV-22s into action later this year, because that's all they will need. Air force tests of the CV-22 have gone well, and SOCOM is eager to put the greater capabilities of the CV-22 to use. Speed is important for SOCOM, for their operations are often instigated on the basis of very recent intelligence.

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 V22 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.


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