November 27, 2007: The U.S. Marine Corps has had
ten of their new V-22 [PHOTO] Osprey tilt rotor aircraft in Iraq for two months now.
The marines won't say how many sorties the aircraft has flown, but there have
been no mishaps so far. The V-22 squadron (VMM-263) [VIDEO] has 200 marines and sailors
assigned. The V-22 is able to do the same work in fewer sorties, as the CH-46E
helicopter it is replacing. That should mean at least several hundred sorties
(and hours) so far for the V22s. Up to a few months ago, marine V-22s had
already spent 20,000 hours in the air. The marines have got the accident rate
down to about what other heavy helicopters suffer, but it is suspected that
they are taking special care of the V-22s in Iraq, to avoid any accidents, and
feared threats from Congress to cancel the program.
The V22 is a complex piece of work, and this has
resulted in a lot of development delays. Work on the V-22 began three decades
ago. At the moment, 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 marines have received nearly 60
V-22s so far.
The marine V-22s can carry 24 troops 700 kilometers
(vertical take-off on a ship, level flight, landing, and return) at 360
kilometers an hour. The V-22 is replacing the CH-46E helicopter, which can
carry 12 troops 350 kilometers at a speed of 135 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 MV-22 will have lots more expensive
electronics on board. This will help the MV-22 when traveling into hostile
territory. The MV-22 also carries a terrain avoidance radar, an additional 900
gallons of fuel and more gadgets in general.
The 25 ton MV-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 MV-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 be ready for combat for another two
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 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 MV-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.