Air Transportation: V-22 Goes To War

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June 28, 2007: The U.S. Marine Corps officially accepted, for service, the V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft on June 1st. The first unit of ten V-22s will arrive in Iraq this September. That's if there are no more problems. The V22 is a complex piece of work, and this has resulted in a lot of development delays. 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 marine V-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 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 ready for combat for another two years.

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.

 


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