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Aerospace Daily November 27, 2001

Afghanistan operations shows need for V-22, analysts say

By Jefferson Morris

Responding to a recent positive NASA report on the V-22 Osprey, two prominent defense analysts told The DAILY that ongoing operations in Afghanistan show a military need for the flexibility and range of tiltrotor aircraft. "I think this assessment from NASA is both sound in terms of what it concludes, and very timely, insofar as there are reports that the usual suspects are once again trying to prevent the V-22 from being brought to fruition," said Frank J. Gaffney, president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy.

"I hope this will be the end of [that], because my own feeling is ... we could be using that aircraft in Afghanistan right now," he said. "Now there need to be some safety fixes implemented, but they could be implemented quickly." A NASA panel was formed in response to a request from Rear Adm. Jeffrey Cook, vice commander of Naval Air Systems Command, for an assessment of tiltrotor aeromechanics phenomena that could adversely affect V-22 safety or performance.

Henry McDonald, the director of NASA's Ames Research Center and chairman of the panel, concluded in a letter to Cook that "with appropriate test buildup, procedures, and identified recovery techniques, it is believed that it will be safe to conduct the planned flight tests [of the V-22]." The report said flight testing should be resumed without delay (DAILY, Nov. 16).

Gaffney said said some of the military helicopter crashes that have taken place during Operation Enduring Freedom might have been avoided if the V-22 had been available. "Between the greater mission performance that we would have, the increased survivability, and the other performance characteristics ... there's a very compelling case to be made for bringing this aircraft to bear quickly, much as we did with JSTARS [Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System] during Desert Shield," he said.

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, said the lack of an early Marine Corps presence in Afghanistan could serve as an effective "advertisement" for the capability of the V-22. "I'm really surprised that I have not seen that [used as an] advertisement [for the V-22] yet," said Pike. "If you go back and look at what [Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki] did on the Light Armored Vehicle after Kosovo ... that was very much a wake-up call to the Army - that if they didn't get something that was a little more deployable, they were going to have a problem."

However, Pike does not think the aircraft should be rushed into service overseas. "It's not ready for prime time," he said. "My concern would be that it would be an opportunity to get some people killed, because they've clearly got to get the ring vortex thing a little better under control."

Revolutionizing transport

Two fatal accidents last year prompted a restructuring of the Osprey program, along with the suspension of flight testing. The Navy and Marine Corps are planning three consecutive block upgrades of the V-22 to help get the program back on track (DAILY, Oct. 17). "The panel believes that when fielded, the V-22 will truly revolutionize the role of transport aircraft in the defense of our country," the NASA report says.

Gaffney said he agrees. "Nothing that I have seen or been told about the aircraft to this point suggests that there are any showstoppers with respect to making this technology a force multiplier ... for both our military and our civil economy," he said.

"I think this is a program that has certainly suffered from being dragged out and subjected to the ebbs and flows of funding and on-again, off-again programmatic decisions," he continued. "As a result, a capability we should have long since been able to bring to bear has not come to fruition."

Pike said his main concern as the program goes forward is pilot familiarity with the V-22's aerodynamic quirks. "I think they're clearly going to have to put some additional thought into making sure that pilots know how to fly the thing, because [it] clearly has some aerodynamic peculiarities and susceptibilities that single-rotor helicopters don't have," he said.


Copyright 2001 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.