GAO Verdict on Corp’s Osprey: Need Plan B

The GAO has reservations about the Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey. After decades of sometimes deadly testing and development, Iraq proved show time for the MV-22. The Corps’ tilt-rotor aircraft is replacing its aging fleet of CH-46E and CH-53D helicopters.

To some the Osprey is God and is operational today thanks in large part to zealots leading a religious movement to get this bird in the inventory. Discrepancies were ignored along the way, and some of the true believers died making this dream a Corps reality.

But they died not in vain. The Osprey has performed admirably in Iraq – so says the Corps and the Government Accountability Office. But in the GAO’s report delivered to Congress mid-2009 advises caution in future Osprey support.

In “V-22 Osprey Aircraft: Assessments Needed to Address Operational and Cost Concerns to Define Future Investments” the GAO states:

As of January 2009, the 12 MV-22s in Iraq successfully completed all missions assigned in a low-threat theater of operations—using their enhanced speed and range to deliver personnel and internal cargo faster and farther than the legacy helicopters being replaced. However, challenges to operational effectiveness were noted that raise questions about whether the MV-22 is best suited to accomplish the full repertoire of missions of the helicopters it is intended to replace. Additionally, suitability challenges, such as unreliable component parts and supply chain weaknesses, led to low aircraft availability rates.

The report is a brief 13 pages of text and graphs. As stated, the main concern seems to be whether the MV-22 can fulfill the range of missions of the aged helos it’s replacing. Despite what has been considered success in Iraq. The GAO writes:

Battlefield commanders and aircraft operators in Iraq identified a need to better understand the role the Osprey should play in fulfilling warfighter needs. They indicated, for example, that the MV-22 may not be best suited for the full range of missions requiring medium lift, because the aircraft’s speed cannot be exploited over shorter distances or in transporting external cargo.

That could be a problem, some in the Corps believe these deficiencies will be worked out though the slow (and costly) purchase and replacement process. (Check’s in the mail.)

The GAO found low mission capability percentages (a world unto itself in the shadows of gun deck aviation). While the mission capability requirement was 82 percent with an objective of 87 percent, the three squadrons tallied 57, 61 and 68 percent. (It appears the zealots may be gone, otherwise these numbers would have topped 90 percent.)

ccording to the GAO the low percentages were not unique to Iraq. While recent operations have been the aircraft’s first time around the race track, low numbers beg the question: can the MV-22 give the guys on the ground the support they need?

The GAO’s not sure so and is pushing for a Plan B aircraft.

Time magazine has its doubts about the Osprey. Writer Mark Thompson is horrified by the program fraught with failure.

Defense writer Tom Ricks recently wrote of the MV-22, “Now the Marines have dug a hole that is killing the rest of their aviation. It makes me wonder whether the Marines, the smallest of the armed forces, should be in the business of technology innovation.”

Osprey, liability or sent from God?

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