The U.S. Department of Defense has ordered another 172 V-22 tilt-rotor transports, for about $63 million each. Most of these (141) will go to 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.
The marine MV-22s can carry 24 troops 700 kilometers (vertical take-off on a ship, level flight, landing, and return) at 400 kilometers an hour. The MV-22 is replacing the CH-46E helicopter, which can carry 12 troops 350 kilometers at a speed of 200 kilometers an hour. The MV-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 CV-22 to replace the current MH-53J special operations helicopters. Unlike the U.S. Marine Corps version, the SOCOM CV-22B will have lots more expensive electronics on board. This will help the CV-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 CV-22 won't ready for combat for another two years.
SOCOM has had a GAU-2B machine-gun fitted to the bottom of a V-22, to test the practicality of arming the aircraft. This V-22 installation is a remote control turret using a six-barrel 7.62mm machine-gun. This system has a rate of fire of 3,000 rounds per minute (50 per second), and max range of 1,500 meters. The system weighs a few hundred pounds and includes 4,000 rounds of ammo. A member of the crew uses a video game like interface to operate the gun. This weapon is part of the Universal Turret System (UTS) for Helicopters. Plans for arming the V-22 have been discussed for nearly a decade. The original proposal was for a UTS equipped with a 12.7mm machine-gun. That has a longer range (about 2,000 meters), but the 7.62mm GAU-2B could lay down more bullets more quickly. Experience in Iraq and Afghanistan indicated this would be a more useful defensive measure. The UTS will be mounted on CV-22s as needed. The armed SOCOM V-22 provides an option that the other users can easily adopt. The machine-gun turret is mainly there for protection from local threats, not for turning the V-22 into an assault aircraft.
The V-22 is the first application of the tilt-rotor technology in active service. The air force is already working on improvements (to make the V-22 more reliable and easier to maintain), but these won't be installed for another four years. The V-22 gives the marines and SOCOM a lot more capability, but, as it often the case, this is a lot more expensive. The initial production models of the CV-22 cost over $60 million each. SOCOM insists on a high degree of reliability for its aircraft. Commando operations cannot tolerate too many mistakes without getting fatally derailed.