Ironically, it seems that the US military’s most capable, most combat-worthy weapons and other platforms also get to be the most maligned ones. One example is the F-22, the best fighterplane the world has ever seen. Another example is the V-22, the most capable rotorcraft ever fielded by the US.
Many ignorant people, such as POGO, TCS, NTU, and PIRG anti-defense hacks and a certain ignorant Senator from Oklahoma, have called for the V-22 to be killed and orders for it replaced with orders for H-60 and CH-53K helicopters (or with nothing, in the latter cases). A certain anti-defense hack whom I have repeatedly and utterly proven wrong, Mark Thompson, has called it “a flying shame.” They’re dead wrong, and in this article, I’ll show you why.
The Bell-Boeing V-22 is a midsize, mid-weight, long-range vertical takeoff and landing plane – i.e. a plane that can take off and land like a helicopter. It can fly twice farther and twice faster than any helicopter, carry a significant payload of troops and/or supplies, while also being smaller and faster than heavylift helos like the H-53 Sea/Super Stallion and the H-47 Chinook. Being smaller and faster, it can outrun its enemies and avoid being hit, because it isn’t such a big, easy target as the fat, big, slowly-moving H-53 and H-47 helos, the latter being repeatedly been shot down with ease by the Taleban in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, it has been shot at repeatedly with shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles and small arms, to no avail. Not one has been shot down. Ever.
As USMC MGEN Glen Walters has said:
“The Taliban has a very rudimentary but effective early warning system for counter-air. They spaced guys around their area of interest, their headquarters, etc. Then they would call in on cell or satellite phones to chat or track. It was very easy for them to track. They had names for our aircraft, like the CH-53s, which they called ‘Fat Cows.’
But they did not talk much about the Osprey because they were so quick and lethal. And because of its speed and range, you did not have to come on the axis that would expect. You could go around, or behind them and then zip in.”
Thus, not only does it have a clear job, it can do it better than any helicopter, and over a longer range and larger area than any chopper. And it’s a much harder target to hit.
But it gets better. It isn’t just better at doing its job and safer to fly than any helicopter; it has revolutionized combat. Defense expert Robbin Laird writes:
“The plane started operations in Iraq built around a famous diagram showing the speed and range of the aircraft in covering Iraq. It was the only “helicopter” that could completely cover Iraqi territory. In this role, the testing of support as well as operational capabilities was somewhat limited as Marines tested out capabilities and dealt with operational challenges. The plane was largely used for passenger and cargo transport in support operations. It was used for assault operations from the beginning but over time, the role would expand as the support structure matured, readiness rates grew and airplane availability become increasingly robust.
From the beginning the aircraft impressed and foreshadowed later developments.
From the beginning the aircraft impressed and foreshadowed later developments.
As General Walsh, now deputy commander of Marine combat development, noted in a 2009 interview the remaining forces had to cover more ground and to provide protection at greater distance. Enter the Osprey, which did not require FOBs to provide lift and support to forward deployed forces.
Indeed, General Walsh underscored that, as the US forces withdraw, there was demand for more — not less — airpower. This happened on several levels.
On one level, this was due to the drawdown of the number of combat posts, which supported operations in Iraq. (…) In addition, the Marines were increasingly asked to help Iraqis using the Ospreys. Iraq was the beginning and a conscious raiser for troops and commanders. Next on the agenda was the beginning of deployments to Afghanistan, which of course continue. The Afghan phase of deployments has seen the aircraft and its operator’s transition to many more assault combat operations over time, to the point where the latest Osprey squadron just came back from Afghanistan with record-setting assault operations for the Osprey.”
Indeed, these deployments in real war theaters have shown how flexible, useful, and survivable the Osprey is, performing a wide variety of missions from airborne assault to MEDEVAC, CSAR, and transport out of theater. All done faster and safer than with any helicopter.
Moreover, it was thrust into war theaters during the most intense fighting: in Iraq in 2007, at the insurgency’s climax and during (and after) the surge, in Afghanistan from 2009 to today (including during the Obama surge), and in Libya. All told, by August it had flown 150,000 flight hours.
As Loren Thompson rightly writes, the array of missions the Osprey can perform is nearly endless, and it will likely take up further ones in the next few years: carrier onboard delivery, USAF CSAR, and presidential transport (the Osprey is the only VTOL aircraft capable of meeting all requirements for PT while also being available much sooner than the alternatives). “With no other conventional helicopter well-suited to the mission, Osprey may be the only domestically-designed rotorcraft that can satisfy payload, range and survivability criteria”, Thompson writes. Likewise, only the Osprey can replace the USN’s COD aircraft delivering critical supplies.
As experts have stated, the V-22 is the most capable VTOL aircraft ever, and nothing provides even comparable capability. “It has the best characteristics of a helicopter and a conventional propeller-driven aircraft”, says Peter Caddick Adams of the Royal College of Military Science. “And because it can do both, it exceeds the capabilities of either. It’s so versatile, there is nothing in the world which can match its capability.” From a cold start, it can get to a flight configuration in just 11 seconds.
But the best thing about the Osprey is that it’s CHEAPER to buy and operate than many of the helos suggested as alternatives to it, which completely undermines its detractors’ argument that it’s too expensive and that buying other helos (e.g. CH-53Ks) would be cheaper in an era of record budget deficits.
A single Osprey costs only $67 mn to buy and only $12,00-$8,000 per hour to operate, which means an average operational cost of just $10,000 per hour. By contrast, a CH-53 Super Stallion costs twice as much to operate: $20K/hour, and requires 44 maintenance hours for every hour it flies. The CH-53K POGO recommends as an alternative costs $128 mn per copy to procure, twice more than the Osprey.
So if saving money is the goal, killing the V-22 is the worst way to achieve it. POGO has thus recommended replacing the V-22 with a twice more expensive to buy and operate helicopter which is far less capable and far easier to shoot down!
Moreover, the heavy, big, fat, slow CH-53 Sea/Super Stallion is too heavy, too big, and too slow to substitute for the Osprey (and takes up a lot more space on a flight deck) and represents a totally different class of helicopters.
And the H-60 Black/SeaHawk? The venerable H-60 (which POGO tried to kill for many years) has performed well, but it’s too small, too small, inadequately ranged, and has too little carrying capacity to substitute for the Osprey. It’s simply a completely different class of a helicopter. Yes, the two are VTOL aircraft types. And that’s where the similarities end. Comparisons between these completely different classes of aircraft are made only by utterly ignorant people who know nothing about defense issues.
The Osprey has not only performed excellently in wars, it’s also been tasked with transporting SS agents, presidential staff, and the press. Moreover, allies have shown interest in it: Canada, the UAE, Israel, and India are interested in buying it, especially to bolster their SAR capabilities.
Most importantly, its primary users, Marine pilots, like it. Just listen to them. And watch this film about how the V-22 proved its mettle, proved itself to be far more capable and useful than any helicopter (its speed and service ceiling really matter in combat zones), and what the Marines say about it. Also listen to USMC Commandant Gen. James Amos, a Naval Aviator by trade, who has strongly praised the V-22 and urged its continued production. (Whom will you believe – a real Marine general or armchair generals?) Also listen to his predecessor, Gen. James Conway.
In short, the V-22 is the most capable, most reliable, and safest rotorcraft ever built. It can perform a wide range of missions, from CSAR to airborne assault to VIP transport, and do all of them better than any helicopter, being twice faster and twice longer-ranged than any chopper. Most importantly, it’s cheap to buy and operate – twice cheaper than the CH-53E sometimes suggested as its substitute, meaning that taxpayers get a huge value for the money.
The V-22 shouldn’t be killed. It should continue to be produced.