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CV-22 Osprey

Air Force Variant

A CV-22 aircraft assigned to the 1st Special Operations Wing crashed at approximately 6:45 p.m. on 13 June 2012 on the Eglin Range, north of Navarre, Florida. Five crew were injured and taken to local area hospitals. Two crew members were taken by ambulance, while the other 3 were taken via air. The extent of their injuries was not immediately known. The mishap occurred during a routine training mission.

The CV-22 Osprey is a tiltrotor aircraft that combines the vertical takeoff, hover and vertical landing qualities of a helicopter with the long-range, fuel efficiency and speed characteristics of a turboprop aircraft. Its mission is to conduct long-range infiltration, exfiltration and resupply missions for special operations forces. The aircraft offers increased speed and range over other rotary-wing aircraft, enabling Air Force Special Operations Command aircrews to execute long-range special operations missions. The CV-22 can perform missions that normally would require both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. The CV-22 takes off vertically and, once airborne, the nacelles (engine and prop-rotor group) on each wing can rotate into a forward position. The CV-22 is equipped with integrated threat countermeasures, terrain-following radar, forward-looking infrared sensor and other advanced avionics systems that allow it to operate at low altitude in adverse weather conditions and medium- to high-threat environments.

The Air Force acquired CV-22 Ospreys primarily to replace its fleet of MH-53J and MH-53M Pave Low helicopters used to insert and extract special operations forces from hostile areas. The Osprey could cruise at 230 knots, and had a 2 times greater speed, range and payload over the MH-53J. The CV-22 would meet the requirements of special operations forces. Special operations missions required air support over a wide range of operating parameters. The missions generally require low-visibility, clandestine operations over the entire spectrum of conflict, including peacetime crisis response, expanded contingency operations, and general war. Flights might involve deep penetration of hostile/ politically denied airspace to reach target areas from wartime staging locations within theaters of operations or peacetime bed down locations for sensitive mission prosecution. CV-22 aircraft had to be capable of conducting long distance operations efficiently, reducing as much as possible the need for additional support forces or assets. The aircraft had to be capable of operating at low level, under conditions of minimum visibility or adverse weather, navigating precisely to designated way points and arriving at objective target locations within narrow time parameters. Special operations forces missions require extreme precision (navigational accuracy and time) to ensure the element of surprise, thereby maximizing mission success.

The CV-22 would fill a long-standing US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and Air Force requirement to conduct long range insertion and extraction missions in one period of darkness. SOCOM had always been able to insert, but the CV-22 was expected to allow reliable extraction at long range. This was in part because the CV-22's Suite of Integrated Radio Frequency Countermeasures included an active radar jammer. This equipment could geo-locate threats using its missile warning receivers, as well as incorporate real-time intelligence from a multi-mission advanced tactical terminal. This was accessible to the pilot on a digital map. The CV-22 also had a Directed Infrared Countermeasures system which includes an active infrared jammer. Other CV items included a survivor locator system, additional radios and upgraded computers.

The CV-22 would replace several MC-130E Combat Talon aircraft and MC-130P Combat Shadow tanker aircraft. The MC-130E also was a long-range, covert operations penetrating tanker for the helicopter, while the MC-130N/P provided low-altitude, covert, nighttime non-penetrating refueling missions. The CV-22 was acoustically quieter, less likely to be heard coming in, and had a cleaner design, which meant it would have less drag and be more efficient to fly. With a modification to the cabin auxillary tanks and the addition of a reel and drogue, the CV-22 could become an aerial refueler for both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. This would give commanders a versatile long-range refueling option currently unavailable in any other platform.

With the CV-22, US Special Operations Command would add new and much needed capability to extract special operations personnel and American citizens from behind enemy lines. The CV-22 could also be useful to the Air Force in performing Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR). Conducting the CSAR mission with the CV-22 would eradicate existing mission deficiencies and enhance execution through advances in Combat Search and Rescue Task Force and command and control doctrine. In addition to evolving current doctrine to enhance CSAR, the CV-22 would lead to new CSAR capabilities and doctrine.

The Air Force Special Opertions Command (AFSOC)/SOCOM mission was the most stringent mission of the planned V-22 variants due to the anticipated extended exposure to a high threat environment. The CV-22 variant would travel 500 nautical miles at or below 500 feet above ground level, locate a small landing zone, infiltrate and exfiltrate a team of 18 special operations forces, and return to base. This had to be done covertly, at night and in adverse weather. The CV-22 maintained maximum commonality with the MV-22 baseline design. However, several significant differences in equipment tailored the CV-22 for the special operations mission.

The CV-22 would have enhanced survivability by virtue of the electronic warfare suite specific to the special operations forces mission, as well as meeting the survivability standards identified for the basic MV-22 weapons system. The Air Force version of the Osprey would have a Suite of Integrated Radio Frequency Countermeasures (SIRFC), which included an active jammer. SIRFC could geo-locate threats using its missile warning receivers, as well as incorporate real-time intelligence from a multi-mission advanced tactical terminal (MATT). Other differences between the CV-22 and its Marine counterpart included terrain following/terrain avoidance radar (TF/TA), an additional 900 gallons of fuel capacity, rope ladders, a survivor locator system, and additional radios and upgraded computers.

The primary anticipated tactic of the CV-22 aircrew would be to avoid detection and, if detected, avoid engagement. The primary method of threat avoidance was through extensive, preflight mission planning to avoid known threats. This implied access to an accurate, real time intelligence capability. Special operations missions used radio silence, cover of darkness, terrain following/terrain avoidance flight in IMC conditions at or below 300 feet AGL and terrain masking, avoidance of enemy radar/air defenses and populated areas, exploitation of intelligence, meteorological conditions, and topography; and deceptive countermeasures and receivers to avoid detection/acquisition by enemy defenses. In high threat areas, the CV-22 aircraft would circumnavigate the intense threat areas. The aircrew would use passive countermeasures to reduce detection, but if detected would employ active countermeasures (i.e., infrared and radar jamming and expendables) available for use.

Projected threats to the CV-22 included small arms, man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), anti-aircraft artillery, missiles and projectiles fired from high performance fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft, lasers, and integrated air defense systems. Communications would be threatened by regional collection and jamming capabilities over a variety of frequencies. The most severe threat to the CV-22 would be a combination of these diverse systems, with the degree of severity being mission scenario dependent.

Unlike its Marine Corps counterpart, the CV-22 was equipped with a suite of integrated radio frequency countermeasures radar warning receiver and jammer system, an ALE-47 countermeasures dispensing system, and a directional infrared countermeasure system. This configuration would enable the CV-22 to safely penetrate and escape enemy territory allowing it to perform its missions of special forces insertion and combat search and rescue.

The Air Force initially planned to buy 55 CV-22s, but this requirement was later reduced to 50 aircraft. The first 4 aircraft were to go to the 58th Training Squadron at Kirtland where they would be used for CV-22 advanced aircrew training. In the late 1990s, initial operational capability was expected in September 2004, with a squadron of 6 aircraft stationed at Hurlburt Field, Florida. All 50 CV-22s were scheduled to be in service by 2009. In early 1998 plans were changed to accelerate the CV-22 annual procurement buy profile from 7 to 9 per year rate in FY03, and shorten the CV-22 buy one year from FY08 to FY07. The Air Force was responsible for paying for 50 of the basic configuration aircraft. SOCOM was then responsible for adding special operations forces unique equipment; terrain following/terrain avoidance radar, extended range fuel tanks, ECM, sensors, SATCOM, etc. This worked out to about 15 percent of the cost paid by SOCOM and 85 percent paid by the Air Force.

On 3 February 2000, the CV-22 program submitted a response to a Request for Information from the US Air Force. This RFI was to support an Analysis of Alternatives for the Combat Search and Rescue replacement aircraft program. The TPIPT had solicited CSAR concept submittals from industry over the past several years to identify and rank likely material solutions to the CSAR mission area's top-ranked deficiencies. These include reaction time, range, survivability, payload, battlespace awareness and operational availability. The CV-22 addressed all the mission area deficiencies and had consistently ranked highest of the Non-Developmental full system concept submittals. The Osprey was considered a leading contender due to its speed, range, payload and combat survivability. The Air Force had used 105 Sikorsky HH-60G helicopters in active reserve and Air National Guard units to provide CSAR capability for all U.S. forces.

The CV-22 was expected to resume flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base in July 2002. This was the first time that the Air Force flight tested the aircraft since a fatal crash that took place in December 2000 that grounded the entire Osprey fleet. Since that time, the integrated test force had been working to correct those deficiencies in the aircraft that were identified through a Marine Corps operational evaluation and the Defense Department's blue ribbon panel of experts. The Secretary of Defense formed the independent panel of defense and industry experts after the December 2000 crash to evaluate whether the program should go forward and, if so, what deficiencies needed to be corrected. The CV-22 test team was set to resume the engineering, manufacturing and development phase of the CV-22 acquisition program. Before the flight-test program resumed, the test team would perform the necessary flight-checks to ensure all maintenance actions taken were performed properly.

The 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, began CV-22 aircrew training with the first 2 production aircraft in August 2006. The first operational CV-22 was delivered to Air Force Special Operations Command's 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida, in January 2007. In 2008, the CV-22s from the 8th Special Operations Squadron conducted the first operational deployment of the type in Mali during the annual Flintlock counterterrorism exercise. Initial operational capability was achieved in 2009. The 27th Special Operations Wing, Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico received its first CV-22 in May 2010. As of September 2011, a total of 50 CV-22 aircraft were scheduled to be delivered by 2016.

In May 2012, it was reported that CV-22s would be deployed to Europe to join Air Force special operations elements as part of Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR). They would be integrated with the 352nd Special Operations Group and fill the gap left by the retirement of the MH-53M aircraft in 2007.

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