Naval Air: Japan Orders V22s To Thwart China

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December 2, 2014: Japan has decided to purchase seventeen V22 tilt-rotor transports from the United States. This came after more than two years of deliberations. These V22s will be used to help defend the islands both Japan and China claim but Japan currently occupies. The high speed of the V22 and its ability to land like a helicopter makes it possible for the Japanese to quickly reinforce the disputed islands if China makes a surprise effort to grab them. This is an ancient Chinese tactic, to quickly seize some disputed territory and then call for peace talks. It works better in the 21st century than it did hundreds of years ago and Chinese military experts today talk openly about using it. The V22 makes this tactic much more difficult to carry out. The Japanese V22s will take until 2019 to complete delivery. So far nearly 200 V22s have been built and ultimately 408 are to be delivered at a cost (including development) of $88 million each.

The V22 is rapidly maturing into a reliable and combat proven aircraft. In 2012 the U.S. Marines Corps received the first "Block C" version of the MV22. 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). Most of these improvements were suggested from combat experience with the V22. All these items are also 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 V22 replaces.

Most V22 "Osprey" aircraft are in service with the marines as the MV22. The other user is SOCOM (Special Operations Command), which uses the slightly different CV22 (with larger fuel capacity and terrain following radar for night missions as well as electronic defenses).

Since it entered service in 2007, V22s have flown over 160,000 hours. The 27 ton MV22B cruises at 445 kilometers an hour and its endurance is about 3.5 hours per sortie. The MV22B can carry up to 32 troops or nine tons of cargo.

While users of the V22 are happy with their unique hybrid, the accountants are less pleased. Since 2009, users have been struggling to increase V22 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 V22 is mechanically very complex and expensive, as well as being difficult to keep operational. The V22 has had lots of trouble with costs and reliability.

Since the V22 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 MV22s 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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