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Thu, Mar 02, 2006

Air Force Receives Its First Combat-Spec Osprey

First Marine Deployment Begins Friday

Air Force leaders Wednesday accepted delivery of the first combat-configured CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor during a ceremony at the Bell manufacturing facility in Amarillo, TX.

While earlier versions of the CV-22 tiltrotor aircraft are currently serving with the Air Force, those are test-spec aircraft. The aircraft delivered Wednesday is the first "Block B/10" aircraft, representing the configuration that the Air Force Special Operations Command will take into combat in 2009.

Senior DoD leaders taking part in the ceremony included Army Gen. Doug Brown, commander of US Special Operations Command; Air Force Lt. Gen. John L. Hudson, commander of Aeronautical Systems Center; and Air Force Maj. Gen. Donald Wurster, vice commander of AFSOC.

The man who actually received the keys to the aircraft, however, was Air Force Lt. Col. Jim Cardoso, commanding officer of the 71st Special Operations Squadron, which will get this Osprey to support aircrew training at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM.

The Air Force will ultimately purchase 50 CV-22s for long-range infiltration, exfiltration and re-supply of special operations forces in hostile or denied territory. The Osprey provides twice the speed, up to five times the range and significantly enhanced survivability over other conventional rotary wing platforms.

At the same time, it retains the operational flexibility of a helicopter, with the ability to take off and land vertically, and insert troops via "fast rope" capability onto rooftops or decks of ships.

"This aircraft is the single most significant transformation of Air Force Special Operations since the introduction of the helicopter," said Wurster. "Nearly every mission we have faced in the last 20 years could have been done better and faster with the V-22."

The CV-22 is about 85 percent common with the MV-22 Osprey that the Marine Corps will deploy with in 2007, but possesses a number of additional capabilities tailored to the demands of its unique mission.

A Multi-Mode Radar with terrain following/terrain avoidance modes allows aggressive, terrain-masking ingress routes to be flown safely under cover of darkness.  The Suite of Integrated Radio-Frequency Countermeasures and the Directed Infrared Countermeasures systems detect and defeat radar-guided and heat-seeking missiles, respectively. The CV-22 also has additional internal fuel capacity and enhanced navigation systems, communications and avionics gear when compared to the MV-22.

"This gives us global reach," Brown said of the CV-22. "We can reach out and touch bad guys wherever they live around the world."

In addition to deployment with the Air Force, the Marine Corps will stand up the first operational V-22 squadron, VMM-263, at MCAS New River on March 3. The Marines' MV-22 reaches initial operational capability -- meaning it is ready to deploy for combat -- in summer 2007, though the squadron will be airborne with its full complement of Ospreys at New River within the year. Initial operational capability for the Air Force's CV-22 follows in 2009.

The Defense Department approved full rate production of the Osprey in September 2005, following successful completion of an operational evaluation in which the Osprey demonstrated all the key performance parameters for the Marine Corps mission. Additional operational tests will begin later this year, for those systems and mission profiles unique to the CV-22.

That can't come soon enough to some troops serving in combat zones.

"I spent the summer of 2004 in Afghanistan and led 22 direct-action air assaults," said one Navy SEAL team leader who asked not to be identified. "Coming in on the helos, the enemy would hear us when we were still [minutes] out. That was time they had to flee or to get ready to shoot at us. With the Osprey, my experience has been that you don't hear it until it's already over your head."

Brown acknowledged that it has been a long road to get the V-22 from earlier designs to a mature technology that's ready for war.

"This is not the same aircraft that was flying six years ago," said Marine Corps Col. Bill Taylor, head of the V-22 Joint Program Office. "Both the aircraft and the program have been reengineered, and more than ten thousand flight hours over the last three-and-a-half years have validated those changes. And we will continue to make improvements for as long as this aircraft is in the inventory."



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