About Marines plan ahead as V-22 deployment nears
|June 21st, 2007||#1|
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Marines plan ahead as V-22 deployment nears info
Posted on Wed, Jun. 20, 2007Marines plan ahead as V-22 deployment nears
By BOB COX
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
PARIS -- The Marine Corps is trying to acquire an adequate stock of spare parts to have on hand when the first Marine squadron flying the V-22 Osprey deploys to Iraq this fall.Col. Matt Mulhern, who is overseeing V-22 development and procurement for the Marines and the Air Force, told reporters at a Paris Air Show briefing Tuesday that the Marines are trying to anticipate which parts will suffer the most wear and tear.
"The first deployment is going to be challenging" in terms of knowing how the aircraft will hold up and what it will take to keep them ready to fly, Mulhern said.
Bell Helicopter and the Boeing Co., which build the V-22 together, and their suppliers are working to build up supplies of key parts and components, such as rotor blades and engines that will inevitably be worn down by the sand in Iraq.
But, Mulhern added, "Something [else] will pop up that we didn't know about."
Gen. James Conway, the Marine commandant, has said he will order VMM-263, the first squadron prepared to fly the V-22 in real-world situations, to Iraq later this year. Mulhern said the expectation is the deployment will be around September.
The squadron, based at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., has recently been training in the desert environments of California and Arizona. That training has gone well, Mulhern said.
Recent internal Marine correspondence obtained by the Star-Telegram shows that the V-22 continues to have substantial reliability issues, requiring a high level of maintenance and replacement of parts and components.
Mulhern said the mission-capable rate, which measures how many aircraft are ready to go to work, "is in the mid-70s [percent]" with a goal of 82 percent. "We're not where I want to be."
Each V-22 squadron will have 10 aircraft but will have the maintenance staff as if it had 12 aircraft.
Winslow Wheeler, a defense analyst with the Center for Defense Information in Washington and an Osprey critic, said it is "clear the V-22 imposes extraordinary maintenance requirements, especially in an environment like Iraq, and every precaution should be taken, regardless of cost, to ensure success.
"I wish the Marines the best of luck with the V-22 in Iraq, especially the personnel who will be in the aircraft," Wheeler said. "It is clear, or rather should be, that the V-22 brings with it performance limitations that should be rigorously observed to keep the aircraft, and especially its human cargo, as safe as possible. This deployment is an important opportunity to learn more about this aircraft and what it can and cannot do."
Bell builds components for the Osprey in Fort Worth and assembles the aircraft in Amarillo.
The company employs more than 6,000 people in Fort Worth and 1,000 more in Amarillo.
The Iraq deployment could be a turning point for the oft-delayed and troubled V-22 program.
If the aircraft does well, it will justify the Marines' faith and longtime support of the aircraft.
The Pentagon is confident enough in the V-22's capabilities that it is now negotiating with Bell and Boeing for a five-year order for 167 Ospreys for about $10 billion, plus the cost of engines (roughly $2 million each), and other government-supplied equipment.
Mulhern says there's a strong chance that the V-22 squadron could suffer combat losses, but he expects that the aircraft's speed, acceleration and ability to fly higher than helicopters will make it less vulnerable to enemy fire.
Those same characteristics will also save lives, Mulhern said, when the V-22 is used to evacuate wounded troops.
"The first casualty that goes to a primary-care facility, if it [the V-22] saves his life or a limb, that just paid for the program, in my opinion," he said.
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