V-22: A discussion on the way ahead

(Washington, D.C.): In the aftermath of the report by a Blue-Ribbon Commission asked by the Defense Department to evaluate the V-22 Osprey program, the Center for Security Policy brought together on 22 May more than 120 senior military officers, a leading Member of Congress and congressional staffers, policy and industry professionals to consider the case for the V-22 Osprey and tiltrotor technology.

This half-day Roundtable on “The Way Ahead for the V-22” was held at the Reserve Officers Association in Washington, D.C. and featured a brief keynote address by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James L. Jones, III. Gen. Jones’ comments were followed by a review of “Requirements and the Road Ahead” for the V-22 program led by two senior commanders: the Chief of Staff of U.S. European Command, Lieutenant General Dan Petrosky, and the Commander of the Air Force Special Operations Command, Lieutenant General Maxwell Bailey.

The Roundtable then turned to consideration of “The Status and Potential of Tilt-rotor Technology,” led by Terry Stinson, the Chairman and CEO of Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., and Pat Finneran, the Vice President for Navy-Marine Programs for Boeing Aircraft and Missiles. They addressed the manufacturers’ plans for restructuring the program so as to rectify shortfalls identified by the Blue-Ribbon Commission and to resume cost-effective production rates as soon as possible. Messrs. Stinson and Finneran were joined by Dennis Eckenrod, a Chief Pilot with American Airlines, who shed important light on the potential value of the tilt-rotor technology being perfected in the V-22 program to the Nation’s civil aviation and other industries.

In the final portion of the program, Representative Curt Weldon, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Readiness Subcommittee, provided an assessment of congressional attitudes towards the V-22 in the wake of the program’s difficulties addressed by the Blue-Ribbon Commission and its recommended fixes. He was followed by concluding speaker, General Charles Holland, the Commander of Special Operations Command, who added his own personal endorsement of the Osprey, affirming and reinforcing the remarks made earlier by Gen. Bailey.

While no effort was made to secure a consensus, the sentiment of those present appeared to be strongly in favor of realizing the potential of the V-22 and tiltrotor technology for both military and civilian applications. Highlights of the discussion included the following:

General Jones Makes the Case for the Osprey

Gen. Jones affirmed the Marine Corps’ positive view of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s findings on the V-22 and his judgment that the tilt-rotor technology used in the V-22 is mature and that manufacture and deployment of the aircraft is doable. His remarks included the following:

  • “I’ve been involved in this program in one shape or form since about 1987, either as an advocate or as an emissary for previous commandants who have tried to bring this technology forward. It was certainly a painful moment for me, and I think all of us who care about how we do things in this town, particularly bringing new technology–particularly aviation technology–forward, to have such devastating setbacks.”

  • “For me, there were three central questions that needed to be answered. The first one was, simply, the maturity of the technology as a concept: Was it doable? Is it mature enough? And if the answer to that question is Yes, then the second question is: Is it robust enough? Has it been thoroughly tested? And is it ready for the operational rigors of shipboard life in the Armed Forces, and in the Marine Corps in specific? And then, if those two questions are answered in the affirmative, or some variation thereof, then the third question is: What’s the best way to bring this technology forward and put it in the inventory? What’s the most affordable way to do that?”

  • “The judgment of the panel is in. [M]y sensing was that the answer to the first question was: Yes, the technology is mature. It is something that is doable. But there were some difficulties with the second question, as to its robustness and as to the thoroughness of the testing and perhaps some of the way we were producing and acquiring the V-22s that have come off the line so far. We accept that….With regard to the third question, once we get through the first two, then I think we really do need to pose the question as to what is the best way to acquire the technology at the most affordable unit cost, and simply get on with it.

Panel One: “Requirements and the Road Ahead” for the V-22 Osprey

The Roundtable then turned to a discussion focused on concrete military needs and the best way to address these needs. It featured a real-life series of scenarios outlined by EUCOM’s Lt. Gen. Daniel Petrosky, Chief of Staff, U.S. European Command and similar comments from AFSOCOM’s General Bailey. Key points that were made in the course of this portion of the program included the following:

  • As we look to the future, and the world we find ourselves in, and the things that we believe and know that we’re being asked to do today and are likely to be asked to do in the future, the potential for tiltrotor technology is just as an incredible potential force-multiplier.

  • From a pilot’s standpoint and from an imagination of what this kind of aircraft can do for us in an objective area, when you need to get in and out quickly in a hostile condition, this airplane has just got almost unbounded potential. For example, you’re two miles out from a helicopter landing zone, flying 230 knots as an airplane. Eighteen seconds later, you have slowed that aircraft to hover speed and can sit down in the landing zone to quickly on- or off-load the maximum things on the aircraft. Eighteen seconds later, you’re going 230 knots as an aircraft again on your escape. And if you’ve tried to put that in a situation where you’ve got guys under fire, and it’s important to get in and out quickly, the potential to have that kind of responsiveness is just unbounded. These are things that we really can’t do today.

  • The birth of our modern-day Special Operations Command…was really the debacle that we had at “Desert One.” And the “Desert One” scenario was so much more complicated by our inability to move long distances and present ourselves directly into the objective area during a single period of darkness. It was a very complex mission. It required us going out in the middle of the desert with C-130s, followed by helicopters and trans-loading. And then part of the mission that we never had a chance to execute was moving to an all-day hide site, with the entire force; putting everybody to bed; dispersing the helicopters; and coming back out and repeating that situation the next night, to include removal of the hostages and then the extracting of the force.

    If you had CV-22 type technology, could have been done with a single in-and-out pass — albeit with helicopter refueling with C-130 type assets — moving directly into the objective area, and then being able to extract during that, again, single period of darkness.

  • We had a mission a couple of years ago where we had a long-range non-combatant evacuation order. And one of the things that really cost us getting to the battle on time was we have to break down the aircraft. You’ve got to break it down. It takes 18 hours to break down our current MH-53s, an additional 12 hours to build them up, and then a functional check flight before you know that it’s safe to fly. And so, with a self-deployable airplane, of course, you eliminate all of that. And then, again, our ability to then with a single aircraft be able to range the world and operate independently of runways is just something that is going to bring us capabilities that we don’t have today.

  • [W]e’re very, very comfortable that once we get back into our testing, that we’re going to be able to field a safe airplane….As we look at the safety features — and that has gotten the bulk of the play in the efforts to bring the aircraft on — it is equally important to us that all the reliability and maintainability features be built into it. Because the way that we operate, and trying to cut ourselves off a lengthy logistics tail, if we don’t build those into it, then it’s going to be not as effective as we believe that we need to do it in the future.

  • Tiltrotor technology, some people will talk about it being experimental. But of course, we’ve been flying successful tiltrotor technology since 1992. I’m not sure that that would be considered skipping a generation. It seems to me that what we’re talking about with this aircraft is bringing a proven technology in — more than skipping; how about operationalizing? Operationalizing technology that we know can make a difference today; not something that will make a difference a generation from now.

  • There were about 17 different studies, seven of which…were DOD-sponsored studies. One…was [conducted by] the Lawrence Livermore, which was an incursion in to the Bekaa [SPELLING?] Valley, where we had a Marine expeditionary force at various distances in the Mediterranean, and their ability to respond to a blocking force to take out, in this case, a Syrian [unit] using Soviet tactics at the time, coming down through that valley. And it literally made the difference between winning or losing the battle, because of the time necessary to get the reinforcements into that blocking force.

  • Phil Coyle: “I’m Phil Coyle, former director of operational testing and evaluation in the Pentagon. From a test point of view…there’s good news/bad news. The good news is: The V-22 program did a nice job of live fire testing…being shot at. And indeed, it’s a robust aircraft from that point of view; and my former office said so. The chem-bio protection, however, was a weak area in testing. And they shouldn’t be smashed together. So while the V-22 has some strengths with regard to vulnerability, it also has some weaknesses….Just so I won’t be misunderstood here, I think Undersecretary Aldrich made the correct decision [in approving continued development of the V- 22]. But the V-22 was supposed to be more reliable than the helicopters it might replace, easier and cheaper to maintain than the helicopters it might replace; and it simply isn’t yet.

    “One of the things that I’ve advocated since I left the department, advocated in the press, is a sustained reliability test, to demonstrate that the accident rate is not as bad as it would appear to be from the recent crashes. You could get the idea from the recent crashes that the accident rate is like one every 800 to 1,000 hours. The program may want to argue that that’s an accident of statistics…. And the only way to really get through that is, after all the hardware and software and hydraulics problems, electronic problems, after all of those things have been fixed [is] to do some kind of sustained reliability test, to show that it’s not as bad any more after all those things have been fixed. Obviously, if you do an 800-hour test and stop, it won’t prove that.

Panel Two: Tiltrotor Technology – Status and Potential

Highlights of the discussion of this topic included the following:

  • Terry Stinson: “The need for V-22 type technology is probably more necessary today than it was when the V-22 concept originated a number of years ago. It continues to validate the type of capabilities that the V-22 represents, and that’s things like global reach, battle space awareness, inherent survivability. And, yes, as we talked about earlier in this discussion, we will have unprecedented reliability and supportability when the V-22 goes into full-rate production.”

    “We remain convinced and confident of the tiltrotor technology. It is a mature technology. It is a safe technology. And the V-22 Osprey is a sound and solid aircraft that will, in fact, become the tactical platform of choice for the Marine Corps, for Special Operations, and other services and selected allies around the world.”

    “We’ve been flying tiltrotors for 45 years. So when people talk about tiltrotor technology being new, it’s nearly a half a century that we’ve had tiltrotors in one fashion or the other that have been flying. We began with Bell’s first tiltrotor, the XV-3, which flew from 1956 to 1962. We then had the XV-15, which flew in 1977 and is flying today. And of course, to the MV-22, flying since 1989; and the CV-22, that is currently operating at Edwards Air Force Base. We truly know tiltrotors, and know that they are sound aircraft–Revolutionary, no question about it; but sound. We’ve got over 6,500 flight hours in tiltrotors. And all of the people who have flown the tiltrotors have immediately appreciated the revolutionary aspects of the aircraft.”

    “You don’t have to stretch your thinking very far in terms of getting to quantities that become so low that from an industrial base point of view you start irreparably damaging the ability to respond to the technology of this aircraft. And I think that the numbers that we’re talking about right now–Pat and I have a common mind on that. We know the numbers that we think we have to have in order to be able to maintain the industrial base, the technology base, and so on… You go below that, and pretty soon you’ve got a lot of people dropping out–a lot of people being part of our team, the subcontractor base, and so on.”

    “To a lot of the critics who have said, Let’s just put it on the shelf for two or three years and do some more studies, and then start it back up again,’ my response to that is that some of us may not in fact be willing to start it back up again. And some of the technology would not be recaptured.”

  • Pat Finneran: “Over the past 18 months, we, with our industry partners, have identified more than 400 cost-reduction initiatives. Implementing these initiatives will provide aircraft that are more affordable — not just in acquisition, but in total ownership cost — allowing our customers to acquire more capability for the limited funding that they have. Precedence for effective cost reduction like the FA-18 E/F can provide us the proven processes to use in bringing these costs down.”

    “In the near future, we see potential for additional Air Force requirements beyond V-22 for special operations. There is a clear role in the execution of the expeditionary force concept of operations for a long-range, multi-mission, verticle take-off and landing-capable transport like the V-22. Such missions might include forward-base reconstitution, force protection, combat rescue, Medivac, air ahead clearance, humanitarian relief, even AEW and EW or airborne command and control.”

    “We also think that Air and Army National Guard units could incorporate V-22 detachments in their homeland defense; particularly in their roles of disaster relief, rescue and, as we talked about earlier, the response to weapons of mass destruction.”

    “The V-22 is also a candidate for the Navy, for combat rescue, SEAL support, and long-range logistics missions. We also believe, as the United States Army progresses in its transformation toward a lighter, more maneuverable force, that they will find an important place for V-22 in support of air assault, logistics, and Medivac missions.”

  • Commercial Application of V-22 Technology

  • Dennis Eckenrod: “[Transportation Secretary] Norm Moneta [has said]: In the year 2000, 600 million passengers flew on U.S. airlines. That’s a 50-percent increase [over the past] nine years. It’s expected to hit one billion by the year 2010.’ Now, that statement pretty much says it all.

    “Today we’ve been talking about the V-22 and its ability to perform in battle; and we have a different war that we’re looking at here at the airline industry. And that’s one of capacity….The American people have discovered flying; they want the product. The problem is, they don’t want new runways; they don’t want the noise that the airplanes produce taking off and landing at the different airports. And so it puts us in somewhat of a conundrum, in the sense that they want their product, but they don’t want anything that comes with it.”

    “The nation’s air traffic system is [in] critical [condition] — the congestion, the delays, the noise, etc. This airplane fills the bill. It’s a quiet aircraft as it transitions to forward flight….And from our perspective as an airline, needless to say, the benefits are something that we could really use; in the sense that the noise footprint on the airplane is so small, if we can transition from vertical flight to forward flight inside the airport boundary and get the altitude that we need to pass over the populated areas adjacent to the airports, we’ve solved several problems. Environmentally and politically, we have created a real plus for the airline industry.”

    “One of the very interesting things about the tiltrotor is, out to a 600-mile radius, not having the constraints of the taxiways and the runways, we have done some studies using the official airline guide to a 600-mile radius around the DFW Airport. We can actually beat our standard airliner to destination. The reason being, there is no delay involved in that taxiway or waiting for a runway.”

    “If you draw a 600-mile radius around [the Dallas-Fort Worth] airport, 41 percent of our flights are less than 600 miles; Chicago, 65 percent. Newark is 98 percent that go less than 600 miles. So those numbers: Pretty much 50 percent of the flying that we do is less than 600 miles in most airports in the United States.

Panel Three: Other Perspectives

Highlights of the concluding panel featuring Congressman Curt Weldon and Gen. Charles R. Holland included the following:

  • Rep. Weldon: “[W]e had ten members of Congress [at a congressional hearing in Pennsylvania on 21 May]. And Rep. Bob Brady asked a very revealing question, and it was very simple in terms of the content. He [asked two Marines — a field grade officer and a non-commissioned officer — involved in the V-22 program]: You both have families, right?’ And they said, Yes, Congressman.]’ If you were in a hostile situation today, and you had a CH-46 and a 53 and the V-22, which one would you have the most confidence in putting your family in, your wife and your kids, to get them out?’ And both of them, without hesitation, said, The V-22.'”

    “[W]e don’t have a problem with the technology today; we have a problem with perception. And you know, in this city sometimes, if not often, perception overtakes substance….The perception is…fueled by superficial articles that have said, “This plane is unsafe, this plane should not be flown, this plane is being rushed into production,” all of which is garbage.”

    “[W]here we are today is, as you heard yesterday, the Administration is going to request the basic minimum buy this next year, which I assume will be one per month, 12, which is what the Marine Corps says they can live with and what the contractors say they can live with. I would say there may be an attempt to plus that up slightly, as you’ve done in the past. But given the budget train wreck that we’re in the midst of right now–And it’s so bad, and I can’t convey this enough to you. I just finished chairing a hearing for two hours, and I focused on this again. We have such a readiness issue and a problem that if we don’t get an emergency supplemental done by June, by the end of June, we’re going to have the services begin to shut down training by July 1st. There’s no choice. We’re out of money.”

  • General Holland: “Within Special Operations, always our main concern is time. Time can be an enemy, or time can be a friend. If you can operate inside the decision cycle of the enemy, then time is your friend. If, because of the weapons system you bring to bear, you do not have time to get to the target in time, and the enemy is able to amass the people or equipment prior to us arriving, then we in Special Operations, being a small, light, lean force, then do not do very well at all.”

    “[W]hen you talk about range, when you talk about deployability, when you talk about the one period of darkness–It becomes a very compelling reason why tiltrotor technology and a platform such as the CV-22 would be very beneficial to our command.”

    “[F]rom what I have heard from the blue-ribbon panel, the fact is that industry can meet that challenge. And given that industry meets that challenge, then I feel that tiltrotor technology and the CV-22 will definitely keep us a step ahead at Special Operations Command in meeting not only those missions that I just discussed, but also those missions involved with counter-terrorism and the weapons of mass destruction, where this platform can really revolutionize the way that we do business within our command.”

  • Discussion of the Commercial Opportunities for Tiltrotor Technology

  • If you could plug in an airplane like a tiltrotor that can double the capacity of some of our large airports, and has a small enough noise footprint to go into general aviation airports… [y]ou can go back and add air traffic opportunities to the small towns, and you can decongest the airport so that it can carry the capacity it needs to carry. Right now, all the short-haul aircraft are imported into this country from other countries. They’re not built in this country at all. That’s part of the balance of payments issue that we have.

    The chance of getting there without the military validating the technology is slim to none… But I think that to reach the state that we’re talking about here, where you’re talking a multiple number of tiltrotors — you’re talking ten passengers, 40 passengers, a hundred passengers — that’s what it’s going to take to fix the problem we’re talking about.

    Economically, we need to look at this thing several ways. First of all, we’re talking about building V-22s at one a month. That’s not an economic rate for building airplanes. Even if you got the economic rate, the rate people are talking about is four a month. Well, Boeing builds 737s at the rate of 25 to 30 airplanes a month. That’s why the economics is there. And if the marketplace for this type of machine comes along, then building them at a higher rate is what’s going to drive the cost of the airplane down. It’s going to make a big difference in what it costs us to build the airplane.

  • Dennis Eckenrod: “There is a history here. If you go back to the KC-135/707, American Airlines flew the first coast-to-coast flight in a 707. The KC-135 program drove that. The DC-3/C-47 [the military was also the driving force behind] these aircraft. And the great thing about having the military and the civil world have the same sort of aircraft is, of course, the parts supply. And in case of a large conflict, you’ve got immediate access to parts and equipment.”

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