‘Now Hear This’: Will Aspin’s Commitment To V-22 Translate Into Needed Momentum, Real Peace Dividend?

(Washington, D.C.): In the course of confirmation hearings last week, Secretary of Defense-designate Les Aspin assured the Senate Armed Services Committee of his unwavering support for the revolutionary V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. He noted in response to questioning by Sen. John Glenn (D-OH) that: “It has long been a position of the House Armed Services Conmiittee that we should proceed with [the V-22], and I haven’t changed my mind.”

Combined with President-elect Bill Clinton’s repeated endorsement of the Osprey during the recent election campaign(1) and subsequent to his victory in November, it would appear that the hostility this program faced in key quarters of the Bush Defense Department is about to be replaced by a strong commitment to garner the full benefits of the decade-long, $3 billion investment the nation has made in tiltrotor technology. If so, both the military and the civilian economy stand to realize substantial retums on that investment thanks to the myriad applications of aircraft that can take-off and land like helicopters and fly horizontally at speeds comparable to conventional aircraft — and the associated employment potential.

‘It’s Time for a Change’

What is somewhat unclear, however, is whether the incoming Defense Secretary understands that important changes will have to be made to the V-22 program he is inheriting if such benefits are to be achieved. This is the case because, despite its seeming capitulation last July to congressional pressure to proceed with the Osprey, the leadership of the Bush Department of Defense adopted a “compromise” that actually is cynically designed to ensure the V-22 never achieves meaningful operational deployment.

This “compromise” was laid out in a letter to Congress signed by Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney dated 2 July 1992. It advised that the Pentagon would no longer object to the expenditure of authorized and appropriated funds for further development and limited production of the V-22 provided the Department could establish that it was, indeed, a preferable option to other alternatives. The congressional committees — including Mr. Aspin’s House Armed Services Committee — bought Secretary Cheney’s so-called “dual-track” proposal.

Unfortunately, this dual-track initiative has proven to be simply a stratagem for the V-22’s opponents — notably the Pentagon’s Program Analysis and Evaluation (PA&E) office (Les Aspin’s organizational alma mater from his stint as a “Whiz Kid” in Robert McNamara’s Defense Department) and the former DoD Comptroller and current Acting Secretary of the Navy, Sean O’Keefe — to carry on their fight against this program. First, in the name of permitting helicopter alternatives to compete effectively against a far more capable aircraft like the Osprey, the dual-track initiative meant that the playing field would have to be “leveled” in ways that seriously disadvantaged the tiltrotor system — and that were highly detrimental to the military’s requirements. And second, the ultimate procurement decision would be postponed for several years so as to enable helicopter alternatives to be readied for a competitive fly-off.

Unless corrected swiftly, the effects of this campaign will continue seriously to delay the program, drive up its costs and otherwise make problematic future exploitation of the V-22 and the tiltrotor technology it is pioneering.

Taking the ‘Joint’ Out of a Joint Program

Prior to the Bush Administration, the acquisition approach taken for the V-22 was a model of inter-service cooperation in the development of requirements and in the definition and selection of a common design that could optimally meet them. Particularly in a period of budgetary austerity, there is no afternative to such an approach if the maximum benefit is to be obtained from each defense dollar spent.

As a result of effective joint service coordination, the requirements for the V-22 were established so as to ensure that the Osprey had the inherent capability to perform not only the Marines’ assault lift missions but also over 30 separate functions for the Navy, Army and Air Force (e.g., special operations, search and rescue, logistic support and medevac). Such commonality served both to minimize the costs associated with meeting these various service needs and to help keep the per-unit price of the V-22 affordable.

For these reasons, the “joint” quality of the program became an early victim of the PA&E-SecNav rearguard action against the Osprey. At the direction of the Office of the Secretary of Navy, the Marine Corps was compelled last August to degrade the program specifications for the V-22(2) such that they might, theoretically, be satisfied by a less capable aircraft (i.e., a conventional or advanced helicopter design).

In the process, the Navy was obliged to violate established DoD procedure concerning joint programs and to ignore the long-standing requirement of Special Operations Forces (SOF) and Navy Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) for a system with the speed and range critical to their missions. Under the Department’s standing regulations, the Navy (which acts as the Marine’s procurement authority) — as the Executive Service for the V-22 program — has a responsibility for “keeping participating services informed of program progress and providing immediate notification of any program changes…which may alter aircraft capabilities, characteristics, and program costs.”

In fact, the Cheney “dual-track” initiative was fashioned without OSD/SecNav consultation with the Air Force/U.S. Special Operations Command representatives at the Pentagon’s V-22 Joint Program Office, as required by established inter-service agreements and departmental policy (i.e., part 12, section B of DoD Instruction 5000.2). In short, the dictates of common sense, fiscal responsibility and even Defense Department regulations have been seriously disserved by the latest “top-down” restructuring of the V-22 program to a reduced, single-service requirement. Unless Secretary Aspin reverses the present so-called “Dual Track” procurement strategy for the V-22, the end result will be an aircraft which is slower and has less range than it could easily have — and than it needs to perform the panoply of joint service missions for which it is required.

“Fly-Off” is Folly

Worse yet, if the “dual-track compromise” is perpetuated under the Clinton Administration, the Defense Department will not have even this less capable aircraft for years beyond when a more robust V-22 would be available. Under the PA&E/SecNav plan, the “fly-off” between a new or derivative helicopter and a less-costly/capable version of the V-22 (to be developed over the next several years) would not occur until 1997, at the earliest.

The winning configuration — presumably decided on the basis of cost — would then begin the long process towards operational capability. If past practice is any guide, the application of such a “fly-before-buy” acquisition approach would leave the Marines without an operational aircraft until the year 2005, and delay complete replacement of the CH-46 until 2015.

The Marine CH-46s — currently the workhorse of the Corps’ aerial lift force — were procured between 1964 and 1971. By the year 2015, the youngest CH-46 will be 44 years old. Inevitably, the effect of this calculated delay in acquiring replacement V-22s therefore will be to place Marines’ lives unnecessarily at risk in outdated and increasingly obsolescent equipment in face of proliferating, high-tech threats.

As is frequently the case with PA&E decisions driven by “cost-effectiveness” calculations based on dubious assumptions, this strategy is also likely to prove — at best –“penny-wise” but extremely “pound-foolish.” These aircraft are already showing their age with heavy maintenance requirements and a need for major dynamic component upgrades. Extraordinary and ever more expensive measures will be required to keep the medium-lift CH-46 fleet operational into the next century.

What Secretary Aspin Should Insist Upon — Real Cost-Effectiveness

Properly understood and defined, cost-effectiveness is actually a powerful argument for the military’s continued development and procurement of a full-up V-22 system. Such an aircraft will benefit from the tremendous effort and expense invested to ensure that it meets very stringent requirements for system reliability, maintainability, crashworthiness and combat survivability. Naturally, the standards set for the V-22 — which exceed the capabilities of other existing rotorcraft by a wide margin — have an appreciable effect on the aircraft’s initial procurement cost. These same features will, however, substantially reduce the costs of operation over the long haul and save countless lives in combat.

Ironically, over the years of its development, the V-22 and alternatives to it have been the subject of a slew of cost and operational effectiveness analyses (COEA). The V-22 has consistently been shown to be the most effective and least expensive solution to the validated joint requirement.

Importantly, the Marine and other missions the V-22 has been designed to perform are not going to go away; neither are they likely to be satisfied in other ways — certainly not in as timely or as “cost-effective” a manner as with the Osprey and its derivatives. If anything, the need is going to increase. The Navy and Marine Corps have recently developed a new strategy, From the Sea, which shifts the services’ focus from a global threat to one of regional challenges, and concentrates on warfare near land and maneuvers from the sea. This fundamental shift from ocean war-fighting toward joint operations from the sea will require the full capabilities of the V-22.

Considerations of the cost-effectiveness of defense investments should also factor in the benefit to the nation — what might be called a “peace dividend” — of continued investment in a highly capable tiltrotor system. Members of Congress who have strongly resisted the Bush Administration’s efforts to kill the V-22 correctly view it as a leading-edge technology, one which has the potential to revolutionize the aerospace industry, domestic transportation and a variety of commercial activities as well as providing immense export opportunities.

The perishability of the leadership position in tiltrotor technology that the United States currently enjoys thanks to its multi-billion investment in the V-22 is well illustrated by an article published last April in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Entitled “The Osprey: Invented in U.S., Built by Japan?”, describes how the commercial tiltrotor may become the next VCR fiasco: “…[The V-22] may become the equivalent of the video-cassette recorder — a technology worth billions of dollars invented in the United States but perfected and sold worldwide by the Japanese.” DoD’s aggressive perfection and validation of this technology is the country’s best hedge against such a ludicrous, self-inflicted wound.

The Bottom Line

The Center for Security Policy believes that the task to Secretary Aspin will be to fix the V-22 program as it was disrupted — “from the top down.” He must ensure that PA&E, the Navy Department, the new Under Secretary for Acquisition and all other Pentagon players understand his full commitment to the Osprey. This can best be accomplished by immediately reestablishing the joint service requirement and funding base for the V-22 program and by putting an end to the wasteful and counterproductive “dual-track” approach cynically instituted by the outgoing Defense team.

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1. For example, in his address to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council on 13 August 1992, Governor Clinton said:

“Our new military must be more agile. Because of the end of the nuclear stand-off, new battlefields will likely be dominated by maneuver, speed, and out-thinking the enemy. Ilat is why, for example, I support a technology this Administration has tried to cancel — the V-22. Because it is the only aircraft capable of certain special operations, including the rescue of Americans deep in hostile territory.”

2. These joint mission requirements called for an aircraft capable of flying 2, 100 miles without refueling, achieving a minimum speed of 250 knots (about 287 mph) and operating from naval platforms.

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