Air Transportation: Operating Expenses Doom The V-22

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July 5, 2013: The U.S. Department of Defense has purchased another 99 V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transports (92 MV-22s for the marines and nine CV-22s for SOCOM). It will takes six years to deliver all these aircraft. So far, 160 V-22s have been built and ultimately 408 are to be delivered at a cost (including development) of $88 million each.

Last year the marines received the first "Block C" version of the MV-22. This version has better weather radar, improved cabin climate control, better anti-missile defenses, and flat screen displays in the cockpit and cabin that show what external cameras see from different positions on the exterior of the aircraft (improved situational awareness). All this is important for an aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter, then speeds away like a fixed wing aircraft. This speed has proved to be very useful in combat, as it is more than 120 kilometers an hour faster than the helicopters the V-22 replaces.

Most V-22 "Osprey" aircraft are in service with the marines as the MV-22. The other user is SOCOM (Special Operations Command), which uses the slightly different CV-22 (with larger fuel capacity and terrain following radar for night missions as well as electronic defenses).

Since it entered service six years ago, V-22s have flown over 150,000 hours. The 27 ton MV-22B cruises at 445 kilometers an hour and its endurance is about 3.5 hours per sortie. The MV-22B can carry up to 32 troops or nine tons of cargo.

While users of the V-22 are happy with their unique hybrid, the accountants are less pleased. Since 2009, users have been struggling to increase V-22 readiness (ready for action) rate from 50-60 percent to the 82 percent that the manufacturer had promised. The problem is that, despite being a wonderful feat of engineering that is now proved itself capable of serving in a combat zone, the V-22 is mechanically very complex and expensive, as well as being difficult to keep operational. The V-22 has had lots of trouble with costs and reliability.

Since the V-22 entered service the estimated lifetime cost of operating the aircraft has increased 64 percent to $121.5 billion. Although the major user (the U.S. Marine Corps) has had an excellent safety and reliability record, the MV-22s are very expensive compared to the helicopters they replaced. This is especially true when it comes to operating and maintenance expenses. In response to this, the marines are buying 200 CH-53K helicopters. These are slower (315 kilometers an hour) but carry more, are more reliable, and cheaper to operate. 

 


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