“It’s a great aircraft, powerful, stable, twice as fast as a Frog and goes over six times as far.” That’s Lieutenant General. John G. Castellaw, the Marine Corps’ Deputy Commandant for Aviation, comparing the new Bell/Boeing MV-22 Osprey to the 40-year-old Boeing CH-46 “Frog.”
More than 20 years after beginning development, and seven years after a spate of crashes that killed 30 people, the $130-million-per-copy Osprey is finally prepping for its first combat deployment. One of the Marines’ two operational squadrons will head to Iraq or Afghanistan sometime this year. Meanwhile, deliveries continue to the Marines and the Air Force, with more than 50 aircraft in service against a planned total of 410.
Despite the Osprey program’s advanced state, critics are still calling for its cancellation. None have been more vociferous than the wonks at Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C. On January 18, freelance writer Lee Gaillard presented his CDI-backed report V-22 Osprey: Wonder Weapon or Widow Maker. “This glitch-plagued program … is poised to reveal fundamental flaws that may cost even more lives.”
- The Osprey is prone to stalling while descending at 800 feet per minute or faster
- The cabin is too small to haul the advertised two squads (around 26 Marines)
- The cabin isn’t pressurized, limiting how high it can fly with troops
- Its range is no greater than that of many heavy helicopter designs
- Lacking guns, it’s vulnerable in hot landing zones
Many of these flaws were revealed in the military’s operational evaluation that wrapped in 2005. Still, the Pentagon cleared the Osprey for service. Gaillard chalks this up to “unstoppable political momentum” resulting from the Bell/Boeing team lining up contractors in 45 out of 50 states.
Of course, the military contests Gaillard’s claims. It says that after the bugs were ironed out, the Osprey not only works – it’s revolutionary.
We at Defense Technology International are on the fence. On one hand, we’ve been around long enough to know that defense contractors sometimes lie … and that the Pentagon sometimes lets them get away with it.
On the other hand, last year DTI military editor David Axe heard a similarly scathing CDI brief on the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighter jet, a brief that turned out to be mostly b.s. once Axe had paid a visit to a Raptor squadron to see for himself. And while the documents Gaillard offers as proof – military evaluations, Government Accounting Office reports (PDF!), etc – are perfectly legit, the man himself lacks bona fides. He’s essentially just an experienced freelance writer. We’re not sure we trust him to put all this documentation in perspective, especially considering his lack of recent experience in the war zones where Osprey is slated to make its debut.
For context is everything. So the question we aim to answer in this series is: Is Osprey right for emerging missions in the Long War?
Cross-posted at War Is Boring