Osprey Deemed Ready for Deployment
United States Marine Corps, HQMC
Division of Public Affairs
Contact: Media Branch, Telephone: (703) 614-4309
HEADQUARTERS MARINE CORPS - Yesterday it was announced that the Marine Corps’ MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft achieved initial operational capability, (IOC), meaning that both the aircraft and the first combat squadron, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (VMM-263) are ready for expeditionary operations. IOC is considered the final major milestone for any defense acquisition program prior to fielding.
Last month Gen. James T. Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps, announced that the squadron is scheduled to deploy to Iraq in September with ten MV-22s. While there, Ospreys will be used for medium assault support missions ranging from troop transport and resupply to casualty evacuation. The MV-22 will eventually replace all CH-46E helicopters for the Marine Corps.
Conditions required for the IOC decision include initial readiness of VMM-263, the requisite number of aircraft and equipment delivered to the squadron, confirmation of the combat configuration of the aircraft through operational testing, and a robust logistical support network to keep the aircraft ready for missions on deployment.
The Osprey is the only operational aircraft in the world with the vertical lift capabilities of a helicopter, and the range, speed, altitude and payload of a fixed-wing airplane. The MV-22 can fly twice as fast, more than twice as high, and three to five times as far as the helicopters it will replace.
The Marine Corps conducted dedicated operational testing in February and March for the combat configuration of the aircraft, known as Block B.
Marine Tiltrotor Test and Evaluation Squadron 22 (VMX-22) logged 185 flight hours with four aircraft in just 18 days, operating in the California and Arizona deserts. The Block B aircraft proved highly effective during its mission essential tasks.
“The aircraft did very well. We were actually above our normal mission-capable averages for those three weeks,” said Lt. Col. Denny Sherwood, VMX-22 aircraft maintenance officer. Maintenance resources and supplies were all in keeping with standard deployment planning, he said. “We had the aircraft we needed to accomplish all the missions despite the high op tempo.”
Those missions included 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 M-777 Lightweight Howitzer, live fire of the Ospreys’ M-240D ramp-mounted machine guns, and 22 aerial refuelings. A third of the flying was done at night.
Crews faced multiple ground threats day and night, to validate and refine the tactics, techniques and procedures for approaching objectives and reacting to threats. They also integrated 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 and their gear. Missions averaged 725 nautical miles round trip, 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,” said 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, VMM-263 completed an extended training deployment to Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif., in September and October 2006. The squadron is currently training at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. VMM-263’s deployment will be followed by deployments for the second and third MV-22 combat squadrons, VMM-162 and VMM-266. The Marine Corps is establishing Osprey squadrons from former helicopter squadrons at a rate of about two per year.