PARIS --- As a matter of policy and professional courtesy, we do not normally criticize other media, apart from the odd comment when published articles contain errors too big to ignore.
However, the article excerpted below, “Reputation remake: Tilt-rotor Osprey wins fans in Afghanistan”, and published May 9 by McClatchy Newspapers, justifies a rare exception to that policy.
It contains so many errors, half-truths, misinterpretations and unsubstantiated assertions that anyone having even a passing knowledge of the Osprey program can see that it is nothing more than a clumsy attempt to remake the V-22’s history – as the headline, in fact, admits.
But readers with no knowledge of the aircraft, or with only vague memories of past controversies, could well believe that the V-22 has really “turned into a swan” and become the efficient and safe aircraft it was designed to be, but which it is not, as is demonstrated in the annotated excerpts below.
Reputation remake: Tilt-rotor Osprey wins fans in Afghanistan
CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan — Almost four years after the MV-22 Osprey arrived in Afghanistan, trailing a reputation as dangerous and hard to maintain, the U.S. Marines Corps finally has had an opportunity to test the controversial hybrid aircraft in real war conditions. The reviews are startlingly positive.
Comment n° 1: So the authors simply write off the V-22’s deployment in Iraq, which proved far less successful than they claim in Afghanistan.
"This is an ugly duckling that turned into a swan," said Richard Whittle, the author of "The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey" and a senior scholar at the Wilson Center, a research center in Washington.
The odd aircraft, which takes off and lands like a helicopter but rotates its engines forward to fly like an airplane, had a star-crossed development period that took more than two decades and included huge cost overruns and crashes that claimed 30 lives. Its deployment to Iraq’s Anbar province from 2007 to 2009, where as combat waned it was used mainly to transport people and cargo, won it criticism from the Government Accountability Office over maintenance and performance issues.
In Afghanistan, however, the Marines have been able to use it more widely, flying it for everything from freight to hundreds of assaults, where it’s carried loads of Marines into or out of landing zones, often under intense fire.
Comment n° 2: Intense fire, in Afghanistan, means from small arms as the Taliban have no surface-to-air weapons.
It’s twice as fast as the helicopter it replaces, the CH-46, it has substantially greater range, and can carry more cargo and more than twice as many troops. The Marines are learning how to maintain it in a harsh environment.
Correction n° 1: While the V-22 has a nominal range of 860 statute miles, its real-world mission radius with 24 troops is only 233 nautical miles – and even then, only with extra fuel tanks. The CH-46 has a range of about 550 nautical miles.
Correction n° 2: According to US Naval Air Systems Command, the CH-46E, the Marine Corps’ current version, can carry four crew and 25 troops, 15 stretchers or 5,000 lbs of cargo, while the MV-22 Osprey can carry three crew, 14 (and not 15) stretchers and 24 troops, which is clearly not “twice as many” as the CH-46.
Whittle, once an Osprey skeptic, has become a fan. “The Osprey has proven itself in Afghanistan in a way it didn’t in Iraq," he said. "Partly that was because it didn’t get the chance in Iraq. Also, it was new, and the military is conservative with new equipment, but once they see it gives them a significant leap in capability like this, they are quick to take advantage of it."
Comment n° 3: During their Iraq deployment, “three full Marine Corps V-22 squadrons flew… over 6,000 sorties, carried over 45,000 passengers and lifted 2.2 million pounds of cargo. This works out to an average of 7.5 passengers and 366 lbs load per sortie – nothing to write home about.
In fact, one wonders why the Marines did not make comparable data available from the Osprey’s four years in Afghanistan.
Among the recent missions the squadron has flown was one in which the Osprey showed its strengths: A Marine with a head wound at a distant base needed to be moved to a second distant base for quick treatment.
The crew was alerted, dashed for the Osprey, spooled up the massive engines and zoomed north from Bastion some 40 miles. They picked up the wounded man and flew another 75 miles or so east to the massive coalition base in Kandahar, all in under an hour from the moment they got the call.
A conventional helicopter would have been hard-pressed to do the same, even without the 40-mile run from Bastion, Sanders said.
"With no prior notification, totally configured to do something else and boom, just like that," said Sanders, snapping his fingers. "That’s what the Osprey brings to the battlefield."
Comment n° 4: So the V-22 flew a 115-mile mission in “under an hour” from getting the call. This is a fairly routine MedEvac mission, and is normally flown in Afghanistan by specialized H-60s or by coalition helicopters. It is hardly a mission “in which the Osprey showed its strengths.” In fact, the US Army’s UH-72A Lakota could have handily flown the same mission (as it does in civilian EMS operations) in roughly the same time.
The Osprey’s not officially designated as a medevac aircraft, but speed is everything when someone’s dying. That sort of capability is among the many things the Marines have been learning about and getting used to, Whittle said.
A more typical use is taking advantage of the aircraft’s speed and range to hook around behind a target for an assault, coming in from an unexpected direction and circumventing the Taliban’s crude air-warning system, which often is a line of watchers with cellphones. That capability has made it a favored platform for special operations strikes here, Marines said.
Comment n° 5: As noted earlier, the air assault radius of an MV-22B is 233 miles with extra fuel tanks, so this mission profile is hardly unique to the Osprey. In fact, it is one routinely flown by ISAF helicopters.
The current version of the Osprey also is far safer than earlier ones; it’s now among the safest rotary-wing aircraft in the military. “This isn’t your grandfather’s Osprey," Whittle said.
The rate for Class A flight mishaps – those that involve death or permanent disability and/or more than $2 million in damage – is 1.48 per 100,000 hours of flying time since the aircraft was declared operational in 2007, according to Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Richard Ulsh. That’s fractionally worse than the rate for the CH-46 medium-lift helicopter
Comment n° 6: Precisely.
but Whittle said it compared well, noting that in the last decade, the military has lost about 420 helicopters and more than 600 people in them, while the Osprey has had three fatal crashes since 2001, killing six.
Comment n° 7: The 2011 cut-off date above was not chosen at random. Just a few months earlier, in April and December 2000, 23 people were killed in two separate V-22 crashes.
Two of those were blamed on the pilots. The third, a crash last year in Afghanistan of the U.S. Air Force’s version of the Osprey, resulted in a dispute between two generals involved in the investigation over whether the cause was an engine problem or pilot error.
Comment n° 8: To be clear, two V-22s crashed last year during operations, one in Morocco (2 killed, 2 seriously injured) and one in Afghanistan (5 injured, three seriously).
Ulsh noted that last month the first of 12 Ospreys joined the fleet of aircraft used for presidential travel, a significant endorsement of the aircraft. They’ll be used to transport the president’s staff and journalists, though not the commander in chief.
Comment n° 9: So the V-22 is safe enough for journalists, but not for the President?
Still, the Osprey is expensive – $122.5 million each, according to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a persistent critic – and it isn’t cheap to maintain, particularly in harsh operating environments such as the extravagantly dusty south of Afghanistan, where the Marines have been fighting.
In a speech in December 2011, McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Osprey engines had been lasting just over 200 hours each, well below the 500 to 600 hours the Marines had expected. That, McCain said, more than doubled the cost per hour of flight, to more than $10,000, compared with about $4,600 for the CH-46. That “is eating up the Marine Corps’ budget,” McCain said.
Osprey defenders say the aircraft’s greater capabilities make up for that additional cost. They note that it can carry 24 passengers, versus 10 for the CH-46, and it flies twice as fast.
Correction n° 3: Not true -- see Correction 1 above.
Plus it can perform missions helicopters can’t. “If you look at maps and the speeds and distances, now we can do three times as much in the same piece of airspace," McSorley said.
Comment n°10: “Three times as much in the same piece of airspace?” Sounds impressive, but what does it mean? Explanation sorely needed.
The aircraft’s maintenance record has clearly improved. For a three-month stretch in 2007 and 2008 in Iraq – also a tough, dusty environment – the Ospreys had a "mission capable rate" of 68.1 percent, according to a GAO report. That’s the percentage of time that an aircraft is in good enough repair to perform at least one of its standard missions. At that time in Iraq, about 85 percent of the standard helicopters were mission capable.
For the first three months of this year, however, the Ospreys in Afghanistan had an 86 percent mission-capable rate, according to the Marine Corps.
Comment n° 11: So the Osprey is now about as reliable as conventional, 40-year old Marine helicopters were in Iraq – assuming these latest reliability figures are correct, of course.
Squadron commander Sanders, who also flew the Osprey in Iraq, said the improvements in reliability and maintainability since then had been so great he wouldn’t have thought them possible.
Comment n° 12: Why does he not mention them, then? This statement cannot be simply taken at face value, and badly needs substantiation.
In Afghanistan, he said, the Osprey has finally claimed its proper place. "A whole generation has been getting on and off Ospreys now," Sanders said. "In Vietnam, the helicopters of that era – like the 46, the 53 and H1 – they took the Marines in and out of battlefields. Well, in Afghanistan, it’s the Osprey."
Comment n° 13: So the glowing conclusion is that, today, the Osprey is carrying today’s soldiers. This is indeed a worthy achievement for an aircraft that first flew on 19 March 1989 (during the Cold War), and entered service in 2007 – 18 years later.)
(end of annotated article).
We hope that now readers will be better armed to make their own opinion on whether or not the V-22 has remade its reputation, and whether it has really "turned into a swan"