Special Operations Command Expresses Need for More V-22s

By Allyson Versprille

Air Force Special Operations Command is looking to add more V-22s to its inventory as a hedge against future accidents, its leader said recently. 

Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, commander of AFSOC, said at an Air Force Association conference in February that he would like to acquire three additional Ospreys to keep in reserve before the production line ceases.

There is not much of an attrition reserve for Special Operations Command’s fleet of 50 CV-22s, he said. “Before our production line slows down or goes cold, we should pursue the attrition reserve in the 50 airplanes and take it to 54.”

The service has 51 aircraft funded through fiscal year 2016, according to the 2017 Defense Department budget request. Based on budget documents, the single CV-22 purchased in 2016 is intended to be a reserve platform. However, there are no other CV-22s requested within the Air Force’s future years defense program, meaning the service would need to fund three extra platforms in order to meet the commander’s goal.

Col. Steven Breeze, deputy director of operations at AFSOC, said having aircraft in attrition reserve is necessary because they will enable the command to quickly fill any gaps if an airplane crashes or can no longer fly for any given reason. “Hopefully we don’t lose any in the future, but you can pretty much guess that you’re probably going to lose an airplane or two, or maybe four.”

AFSOC has already lost two of its V-22s in crashes — one in 2010 during a night raid in Afghanistan, and the other in 2012 during a training accident at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

The command isn’t worried about the production line ceasing anytime soon, Breeze said, anticipating that the planned procurement of V-22 variants by the Navy and Marine Corps will keep the line running. The Navy is purchasing the aircraft to replace its aging C-2A Greyhound turboprop aircraft used for carrier onboard delivery missions. Procurement is slated to begin in fiscal year 2018.

However, the 2017 budget request reflects slight reductions to both services’ planned V-22 purchases over the next five years. The Marine Corps had originally intended to buy 18 V-22s in fiscal year 2017, but the budget request only includes 16. The Navy was going to purchase eight aircraft a year from 2018 to 2021, which was reduced to six a year in the future years defense program. 

Both the Navy and Marine Corps are still expected to buy the full number of aircraft in their programs of record, 44 and 360 respectively, but some of those buys will be pushed to the right, said Rick Lemaster, director of V-22 tilt-rotor global sales and marketing for vertical lift programs at Boeing.

Bell and Boeing are working with the Defense Department to negotiate a third multiyear contract to extend deliveries of the aircraft to 2024. The team is hoping to reach quantities and cost savings similar to what was achieved through the second multiyear contract culminating in 2017, which would maintain aircraft production at the current rate of about 19 to 20 per year.

To fill the gap reflected in the budget request, the companies are hoping to nail down more foreign military sales.

In May, the U.S. State Department approved a potential $3 billion sale to Japan for up to 17 V-22 Ospreys. As of last summer, five of those aircraft were placed under contract. Boeing is hoping that Japan will choose to purchase more of them in multiyear 3, Lemaster said.

Israel, which has expressed interest in the past, is another potential customer.

Boeing is also targeting allies that — similar to the U.S. Navy — will need an aircraft like the V-22 for resupply missions on their carriers.

The Marine Corps has been engaging with some of those potential customers, performing capability tests and interoperability landings on their ships, Lemaster said. They include the United Kingdom, Italy, France, the Netherlands and South Korea.

Topics: Aviation, Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict

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