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Vendors Faceoff Over Navy Cargo Aircraft 

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By Valerie Insinna 

The Navy isn’t likely to kick off a competition until 2014, but two rival manufacturers are eager to prove that their aircraft is the best option for flying supplies to carrier strike groups.

Northrop Grumman Corp., which produces the C-2 Greyhound cargo aircraft currently performing “carrier onboard delivery” (COD), wants to modernize the Navy’s fleet. Bell Helicopter and its partner Boeing are pushing the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft flown by Air Force Special Operations Command and the Marine Corps to take over the delivery role.

Both companies say their aircraft would save the Navy money, but Bell officials claim the Osprey’s ability to fly horizontally like a plane and take off vertically like a helicopter would modernize the way the service conducts COD missions.

In the Navy’s current “hub-and-spoke” style of carrier onboard delivery, a Greyhound transports cargo to an aircraft carrier, and then helicopters distribute that equipment out to other ships in the strike group. The Osprey could still operate the same way but would also be able to deliver supplies directly to those ships, said Ken Karika, manager of military business development for Bell Helicopter.

“With the V-22, we can have the same range, speed and payload capability as the C-2, but we have the vertical lift component, the direct delivery capability,” Karika said. “Frankly, I think we can perform this mission better than the existing aircraft because of our flexibility.”

Northrop Grumman officials, however, assert that the traditional hub-and-spoke method is less expensive than delivering supplies from ship to ship.

“If that tactic of cargo delivery was cost effective, then it would probably be adopted by FedEx [and] UPS. But the tactic and the procedure that is used by companies that are in the business to make money … is hub and spoke,” said Steve Squires, Northrop Grumman’s director of C-2 programs.

Northrop Grumman is promoting a two-phased modification program that would extend the lifespan of the Greyhound into the 2050s. The company plans to replace the cockpit and engine of the C-2 with the same parts used to upgrade E-2D Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft. Then it would replace the center wing sections and engine nacelles as needed, Squires said.

Upgrading the Greyhound would be two to three times less expensive than acquiring a new platform, and the total lifecycle cost would be half as much as any other airplane, he added.
Refurbishing an old aircraft like the Greyhound is a “high-risk, low-value proposition” where it’s hard to know exactly how much work old airframes will need, countered Brian Roby, a field marketing representative for Boeing. Over time the V-22 will save money in operations and maintenance costs, he said.

The Osprey currently is undergoing carrier qualifications to determine whether the tiltrotor is capable of conducting the COD mission. Some Marine Corps officials have openly campaigned for the V-22 to replace the C-2.

Photo Credit: Defense Dept.
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