MV-22 Program Adds Training Squadron, Questions
Bell Boeing Joint Program Office, Patuxent River, Md., is being awarded a $19.7 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price, fixed-price-incentive-fee contract (N00019-04-C-0012) for the procurement of one CV-22 aircraft flight simulator at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM. That base will activate a new training squadron in May 2005 for the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey aircraft, which is currently undergoing testing and Operational Evaluation. According to the Air Force Times, The new unit will be called the 71st Special Operations Squadron, but the first four of six total Ospreys are not expected at Kirtland until March 2006. The USAF has ordered 50 of the $80 million Ospreys for special operations, to replace the aging fleet of MH-53 Pave Low helicopters.
Work on this contract will be performed in Tulsa, OK (44%); Fort Worth, TX (42%); St. Louis, MO (11%); Philadelphia, PA (8%); Dallas, TX (2%); and Clifton, NJ (2%), and is expected to be complete in August 2007. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD issued the contract.
Yet questions about the Osprey remain.
A Dallas/Fort Worth Star Star-Telegram article on April 8, 2005 notes that Bell Helicopter’s manufacturing processes on the V-22 Osprey program have been cited by the Pentagon for defects and deviations from quality guidelines. The Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) noted that the flaws “raise serious questions as to the effectiveness of the manufacturing/quality process” at Bell’s Amarillo plant, according to an Oct. 14, 2004 letter obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Bell Helicopter noted that it was addressing these issues before the memo was issued, and cites a subsequent DCMA email that said “Based on the information available to us, we believe Bell is moving forward in a positive direction for a full-rate production decision.”
Those questions must be answered positively in the current tests in order for the $48 billion program to be approved for full production, a phase worth billions of dollars to Bell Helicopter and its partner Boeing Co. A March 28, 2005 fire caused by leaking hydraulic fluid was extinguished quickly without danger, but the prevalence of hydraulic issues with the V-22 have led some to question its reliability under real world conditions.
Navy Secretary and Deputy Defense Secretary nominee Gordon England has emerged as a leading Pentagon champion of the V-22 Osprey, despite serious reservations expressed by critics and multiple attempts to cancel the program that stretch back to 1991.
The Osprey tilts its wingtip rotors upward to take off and land like a helicopter, and forward to fly like an airplane. It’s touted as having the ability to fly three times as fast and five times as far as a helicopter, yet take off and land in similar locations. Enamored with that possibility, the Marines have defended the V-22 for 18 years against skeptics, budget-cutters, three fatal crashes and a records-doctoring scandal, and even criticisms from Marine operators.
The Marines plan to buy 360 Ospreys for $70-80 million each. The Air Force and Navy want about 50 each.