The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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Second V-22 Squadron Sent In
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by James Dunnigan
April 27, 2008
Troops from U.S. Marine Corps Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 returned home from a seven month tour in Iraq. The 200 marines and sailors operated twelve V-22s. That included the ten they brought with them, and two that arrived last month. The V22s will remain in Iraq, and the troops will be replaced by members of VMM-162.
The marines wanted combat experience for their new aircraft, and they got it. 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 very useful. Moving troops to where they are needed, or getting badly wounded marines to a hospital, 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 can carry 24 troops 700 kilometers (vertical take-off, level flight, landing, and return) 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. 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 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. The SOCOM MV-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 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.
The other services, and particularly SOCOM, have watched the marine experience with the V-22 in Iraq, with great interest. SOCOM was relieved to see that the V-22 stood up well to constant use in a combat environment. The only major surprise was the engines wearing out faster than expected. This may be a design problem, not an "Iraq and the desert" problem, and the engine manufacturer, Rolls-Royce, is working on it. 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.