WASHINGTON: Landing a V-22 Osprey helicopter-style on the sprawling flight deck of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush was a snap, says Marine Corps test pilot Capt. Dan McKinney.

With Lt. Col. David Weinstein, McKinney did it a dozen times on March 20 – six landings in daylight, six at night. After their first two touchdowns, sailors perched in the carrier’s superstructure to watch the helicopter-airplane hybrid Osprey’s first-ever carrier qualification landings, conducted off the coast of North Carolina, started giving the pilots “a lot of thumbs-up.”

Marine leaders hope the Osprey’s “carrier quals,” scheduled to continue in May and June, will help the Osprey get a thumbs-up as well from the admirals who run the Navy when they pick a replacement aircraft for their aging C-2A Greyhounds, the twin-engine turboprops that haul cargo, mail and passengers between carriers and the shore — a mission called COD for “carrier on-board delivery.” The first prototypes flew in 1964.

The C-2 will soon be “an obsolete carrier on-board delivery platform,” said Marine Col. Greg Masiello, who as V-22 program manager for the Naval Air Systems Command is openly advocating the Osprey as a replacement. “I might be considered biased, but it’s an ideal platform for aerial resupply for the Navy.”

A Navy purchase of Ospreys is hardly a new idea. In the 1980s, when Navy Secretary John Lehman fathered the V-22 program, the Navy was supposed to buy as many as 380 for search and rescue and for anti-submarine warfare. That plan evaporated after Lehman left office in 1987, but since the 1990s, the Navy has — at least nominally — had a plan to buy 48 Ospreys. The V-22 first went into service with the Marines in 2007, though, and hasn’t been available in the past when the Navy had a suitable requirement to fill.

The Marines, along with Osprey makers Bell Helicopter, Textron, and Boeing, think buying 30 or so V-22s to replace the C-2A would be a fine place for the Navy to start fulfilling its plan to buy 48. Qualifying the Osprey to land on big deck carriers and other types of ships is partly an effort to help the sea service see how easy it could be to integrate the tiltrotor into their operations. The only other time an Osprey is known to have landed on a big deck carrier was when a Marine Corps V-22 carried Osama bin Laden‘s body from Afghanistan to the USS Carl Vinson last year for burial at sea.

“The official position is, the Marine Corps needs to get the V-22 qualified on all the decks they can in the U.S. and foreign navies so they can do missions,” an industry source said. “The Marines also want to sell V-22s, and they want to push the Navy into buying V-22s.”

Pentagon purchasing czar Frank Kendall confirmed in a March 1 letter to Congress that the Defense Department plans to buy 98 more V-22s – 91 MV-22s for the Marines and seven CV-22s for the Air Force – under a five-year fixed-price contract that would begin in fiscal 2013 and conclude in fiscal 2017. That second multiyear contract leaves another 24 Ospreys to be bought for the Marines and Air Force.

Kendall certified in his letter that the government will pay at least $852 million less for those next 98 Ospreys – a savings of at least 10 percent – compared to what they would have cost under a series of annual contracts. A Navy purchase would be expected to lower the cost of the remaining 24 V-22s the Marines and Air Force want and bolster the logistics chain for both as well.

The Navy’s official target date for replacing its C-2As is 2026, but realistically it will have to act sooner given its COD fleet’s age. The service recently finished an Analysis of Alternatives that included comparing the V-22 to other options, such as remanufacturing its 35 C-2As to extend their service life or buying new ones from Northrop Grumman Corp., but the results of the AoA haven’t been released.

To help make the case for the Osprey, Masiello last October added to his staff Cdr. Sean McDermott, a C-2A pilot who previously commanded the Navy’s East Coast COD squadron.
Masiello argues that the V-22, though at about $67 million (for the Marine Corps version) more expensive than a C-2A, would provide the Navy with a multirole aircraft whose speed, range, and ability to land like a helicopter would greatly expand a carrier group’s flexibility.

“We’ve seen that point proven out now, we believe, on multiple MEU deployments,” he said. Commanders of Marine Expeditionary Units that deploy aboard three-ship Amphibious Ready Groups report that the Osprey’s ability to take off and land like a helicopter but fly with the speed and range of a fixed-wing turboprop has greatly expanded the ARG/MEU’s flexibility, allowing ships to operate at greater distances from each other and foreign coasts.

Using Ospreys to deliver supplies, Masiello said, the Navy could abandon or modify its “hub and spoke” system of at-sea resupply of carrier strike groups, in which C-2As deliver cargo to the carrier and Sikorsky Aircraft H-60 helicopters take supplies from the carrier to other ships. As the Marines and Air Force have shown, the Osprey can also do a range of other missions, from search and rescue to medical evacuation to carrying special operations troops on raids. The only ship a C-2A can land on is an aircraft carrier with an arresting wire for the plane’s tail hook to catch and a catapult to give the Greyhound a high-velocity shove into the air at takeoff.

Given the extraordinary pressure to cut defense spending these days and the large number of higher priorities, however, replacing the C-2A with anything is viewed by those following the issue as a low priority for most Navy leaders. “They want to put this off as long as they can,” the industry official said.

Masiello, though, thinks the day isn’t far off when V-22s will be a regular sight on aircraft carrier decks. “I’m convinced it’s not a question of if,” he said, “it’s a question of when.”

Comments

  • Rosebud

    As a V-22 pilot and at that time V-22 Class Desk I briefed the Greyhound advisory group when they were supporting an AoA back around 2006 or so. I believe that AoA said build a C-2R that piggy backs off of the E-2 replacement and was shot down because of the very large price tag.
    My argument now is the same as it was then. If you want an exact C-2 replacement, point A to carrier and back, then a C-2 is what you should get. It can carry the most cargo over the longest distance that can still land on a carrier.
    But if you want to expand into a much more diverse and multi-role to expand carrier capability, then an Osprey is ideal at a very reasonable (as far as aviation goes) price.

    A couple of those roles that come to mind: external cargo ops, paraops, long range VBSS, Navy SAR and CSAR (if it is inside 80 miles I would send an H-60S, but imagine being able to pick up downed aircrew 200 miles away in 45 minutes and/or having a range of 400nm without refueling), ship to shore resupply (unimproved zones), Seal and Marine SpecOps insertion and extraction from the carrier or other air capable ships and augment MEUs when required. It would be really nice to have dedicated and trained TRAP packages nearby on a carrier when the Marines are trying to push ashore from the amphibs. I also saw an excellent radar system that the Brits use on their H-3s (upgrading to the Merlin) that the company was pitching for a roll-on, roll-off kit that would turn a V-22 into a poor man’s E-2 with better ground mapping than anything the Navy has. I’m not advocating replacing the E-2, but having a kit that you can roll-on to a V-22 and augment the command and control structure would be fantastic. As a Marine aviator I only got to work with an E-2 once (it was really nice having eyes out that far) in 21 years because of how stretched those assets are. For cargo, the Navy used the C-2, H-60s and H-53s (don’t know if the desert ducks are still used or not). Any time anything goes or comes from anything other than a paved field and the carrier, helos are required. The V-22 as a COD replacement pretty much eliminates the helo requirement (for cargo).

    As far as the cost, the V-22 has the lowest passenger cost per mile metric in the inventory for combat aircraft (not including C-12, C-9 etc…) which takes into account the fully burdened cost.

    As far as acquisition, it really makes a lot of sense and will have tremendous cost savings. If anybody really thinks that the C-2 can be replaced for $39M (fly-away) you haven’t been paying attention. The F-18E is $67M flyaway after 3 multi-year deals, C-117 is $230M, F-22L: $375M (and counting), the F-35 will definitely be north of $100M and even the H-60S is $28M and it is built on a 28 year old airframe that the Navy got a deal on because it was purchased on an Army contract that already bought 1500+. None of those include the development cost. Not to mention the fragility of a new program and the time it would take to field the aircraft (12+ years if everything goes well). To top it off, 60% of an aircraft’s cost is not the fly-away cost. Having a few numbers of a single type aircraft is always extremely expensive to sustain.

    The V-22 is as turn-key as it gets. Marines already picked up the tab for development and fielding. Don’t underestimate the value of no congressional requirements (the 48 Navy V-22s have been already approved at every milestone). In addition, the full logistics train is already in place, manuals already written, and there is already an FRS down in New River that can train the Navy aircrew and maintainers.

    Not that I have any skin in the game, but if I was in the COD community I would just say, “Starting with the next multi-year I’ll take 5 a year.” Which happens to be Block C aircraft with weather radar and improved ECM. When you are a small community like the C-2 and in a constant fight for acquisition dollars, there are worse things than having the largest Marine aviation community leading the way for you.

    To another person’s comment – the V-22 was never going to replace the H-46D; different mission, different requirements. In fact, I’ve always thought that the Marines messed up by bullying ahead with the H-1Y and the H-1Z instead of just buying a single airframe (the H-60S) and configuring it with kits to be able to go either slick or gun. The Army’s MH-60 can be armed with pretty much everything the Y or Z has. Logistics would have been much cheaper, initial training would be cheaper, the versatility would have been much better with a very slight degradation in performance and we would have had them in the fleet years earlier.

  • Rosebud

    The V-22 is the only rotorcraft that self taxis aboard ship or it can be folded and towed like other helos.