Completes Block B Ops Test, IOC Supportability
Hot on the heels of the announcement the US Air Force fleet of CV-22 Osprey
tiltrotors surpassed 25,000 flight hours last month,
now comes word the Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey has accomplished two
major steps required for initial operational capability (IOC), with
completion of a major Block B operational test period and a
successful IOC Supportability Review pre-board.
In a program briefing Wednesday, Col. Mathew Mulhern, V-22
Osprey Joint Program Manager, and Gene Cunningham, Bell Boeing V-22
Deputy Program Manager, said the MV-22 continues to progress toward
combat readiness. The Marine Corps' tiltrotor is expected to earn
the go-ahead this summer for operational deployment, bolstered in
part by the aircraft's high performance under
mission-representative testing in February and March.
Marine Tiltrotor Test and Evaluation Squadron 22 (VMX-22) put
the Block B Osprey -- the combat configuration of the aircraft --
through its paces for that evaluation period, known to testers as
OT-IIIA. Crews completed 120 Block B flight hours and an additional
65 hours on Block A aircraft, in real-world scenarios over 18 days
in the California and Arizona deserts. Crewmembers from Marine
Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (VMM-263) and Marine Medium Tiltrotor
Training Squadron 204 (VMMT-204) also participated.
"Although the official test report won't be issued until later
this month, initial results tell us that the Osprey really showed
its full potential, both in terms of mission performance and
reliability," Mulhern says. Block B improvements for the Bell
Boeing tiltrotor include the Ramp Mounted Weapon System,
retractable refueling probe, personnel hoist and fast rope system,
mission auxiliary tanks, and numerous reliability and
aircraft did very well. We were actually above our normal
mission-capable averages for those three weeks," says Lt. Col.
Denny Sherwood, VMX-22 aircraft maintenance officer. Maintenance
resources and supplies were all in keeping with standard deployment
planning, he says. "We had the aircraft we needed to accomplish all
the missions despite the high op tempo."
Those missions included a 2,100 mile self-deployment, assault
raids, company insertions, recon insertions and extractions,
casualty evacuations, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel,
noncombatant evacuation operations, and battlefield logistics.
Missions involved fast rope and personnel hoist operations,
external lift of the M777 Lightweight Howitzer, 1,200 rounds fired
from the Ospreys' M-240D ramp-mounted machine guns, and 22 aerial
refuelings. A third of the flying was done at night, including
eight aerial refuelings.
Crews faced multiple ground threats day and night, to validate
and refine the tactics, techniques and procedures for objective
area entry and threat reaction. They also integrated their
operations with F/A-18 Hornets, AV-8 Harriers and AH-1 Cobras. For
troop delivery and recovery missions, the MV-22s carried 22 to 24
Marines, along with their gear. Average mileage per mission was 725
nautical miles, with the four VMX-22 aircraft logging a total of
30,000 miles during the evaluation period.
"We absolutely went out there and operated in a very
operationally representative manner," says VMX-22 Commanding
Officer Col. Keith Danel. "You name it, we did it, and the aircraft
held up very well. And we operated it in a gritty, windy, austere
environment, and maintained a very high tempo."
The Marine Corps has extensive experience operating the Osprey
in the desert, and Sherwood said many maintenance lessons have been
learned along the way. Besides prior operational testing in the
desert in 2004 and 2005, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263
(VMM-263) completed an extended training deployment to Naval Air
Facility El Centro, CA in September and October 2006.
Operating under deployed conditions in the sand, squadron
maintainers generated mission capable rates with their Block B
Ospreys on par with goals for actual deployment.
"We know that if the Osprey deploys to the desert, it's going to
see the same increased wear and tear that the every other aircraft
sees over there. So we've planned our logistics support
accordingly," Mulhern says.
On March 23, the Osprey program earned a passing grade on its
logistics support plans for first deployment from the final IOC
Supportability Review pre-board, which has convened every six
months over the last two years to track logistics planning.
"It's not enough to give a capable aircraft system to the
operators. You have to deliver it with all the support necessary to
keep those aircraft up and flying over the long haul, whenever and
wherever they're needed," says Mulhern.
The IOC Supportability Review board membership includes the
Second Marine Aircraft Wing, Commander Naval Air Forces, Marine
Forces Command, the Naval Air Systems Command, Naval Inventory
Control Point and other key agencies. Their endorsement will be a
required precursor for the Marine Corps to declare the Osprey ready
That decision is expected this summer, following a positive
OT-IIIA report and final capability additions to VMM-263's Block B