POGO Takes Aim At V-22 Osprey
The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has been a champion of some defense programs (vid. the A-10), an opponent of others that it believes to be wasteful and/or ineffective, and an opponent willing to reconsider on still other programs (vid. the Stryker family of armored vehicles). They’ve recently done a series of short pieces covering the $50 billion V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft program, designed to take off or land like a helicopter, then swivel its engines to fly like a plane.
It would appear that POGO remains unimpressed.
As DID analyses have noted, the issues they cite have direct relevance to future programs like the $8-10 billion CSAR-X combat search-and-rescue program, the similar-sized CH-53X replacement program for the US Marines, and even the USA’s futuristic Joint Heavy Lift program (JHL). Not to mention the recent decision to OK full-rate V-22 production for the US Marines (MV-22) and Special Forces (CV-22).
Beyond the article that lists their basic set of concerns with the aircraft, POGO is also accusing V-22 proponents of using slanted statistics to make their case…
The crux of POGO’s charge is the tendency of V-22 proponents to compare the V-22 with the US Marines’ Vietnam-era CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter, rather than more modern helicopters like the EH101, H-92 Superhawk, et. al., which offer more comparable speed at sea levels, range, payload capacity, and other key characteristics for about half the cost of a V-22.
More seriously, the articles POGO cites note that some of the evaluations leading to full-rate production had important qualifiers in them. To excerpt from Bob Cox at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
…the 44-page report was not an unqualified endorsement. In careful language, it acknowledges that some key questions about the V-22’s capability to perform in combat and real-world military situations weren’t adequately answered during the tests.
A Marine Corps version of the aircraft was effective in “assault support missions in low and medium-threat environments,” the report states…
By almost every objective measurement, the aircraft — a Marine Corps MV-22 Block A model — performed significantly better than in the last round of operational testing in 1999-2000.
But the report notes that little realistic testing was done at night and in severe dust environments, and it expressed continued concern about the aircraft’s ability to conduct aggressive defensive maneuvers.
In tests against simulated enemy defenses, the report states, “pilots noted that the current flight restrictions on aircraft maneuvering in airplane mode … restricted the aircraft’s ability to perform defensive maneuvers.” Additional testing is needed “in realistic tactical approaches to landing zones in high threat areas,” the report adds.
For instance, POGO adds in a different post that:
A report released last week by the Pentagon’s top independent tester (pdf) said the V-22 is capable of operating safely and routinely from unprepared landing zones consisting of grassy fields with some loose dirt. However, the report said, “In more severely degraded environments, such as in brownout conditions, the immediate area affected by downwash is large.” While crews are getting better at dealing with such environments, approximately 25 percent of the landings in severe brownout conditions resulted in “unintended wave-offs,” the report said.”
Given the terrain of many of the Middle Eastern and Central Asian locations in which the CSAR-X winner would have to operate, plus the issue of waterborne rescues, a search-and-rescue aircraft with such side effects may be less than optimal.
CDI’s Philip Coyle, a former chief weapons tester at the Pentagon, argues that the carefully chosen language and remaining issues reveal an aircraft that still isn’t quite ready for combat, and a testing program that carefully worked around known aircraft deficiencies. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes that this sort of avoidance has happened before, and adds that they had reported those issues in September 2004.
On the other hand, the Star-Telegram report also notes a reply from a spokesman with the Navy’s V-22 program office, who said that “A lot of the follow-on testing for this aircraft you will see will be aimed at expanding the capabilities.”
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