First Block-B Osprey Signals Start of Operational V-22 Fleet

Representatives from the Marine Corps accepted the first production Block-B MV-22 Osprey for the government in a ceremony at Bell Helicopter in Amarillo, Texas, Dec. 8.

“With the progression from Block A into Block B, we see for the first time the baseline configuration that the warfighter will take into combat after we reach IOC – our initial operational capability – in 2007,” said Col. Bill Taylor, program manager for the V-22 Joint Program Office.

Marine Corps leadership turned out in force to witness the Osprey production line graduate from turning out aircraft for test and training to supplying operational birds. Lt. Gen. Jim Amos, commanding general of the Second Marine Expeditionary Force, and Maj. Gen. Thomas Moore, commanding general of the Second Marine Air Wing, both made the trip to Amarillo to represent the troops who will ride into combat with the Osprey starting in 2007.

The Marine Corps plans to purchase 360 MV-22s for missions including amphibious assault, ship-to-objective maneuvers and sustained operations ashore. Combining the operational flexibility of a helicopter with the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft, the tiltrotor MV-22 will allow the Marine Corps to achieve previously unobtainable strategic objectives.

The Navy is also slated to get 48 MV-22s, which could be used for fleet logistic support and search and rescue. The Air Force Special Operations Command will acquire 50 CV-22 variants, with enhanced capabilities tailored for their unique mission requirements. The CV-22 will reach IOC in 2009.

“The Osprey remains at the very soul of our Corps' ability to fight future conflicts across a widely disbursed battlefield,” Amos said. “Battlefields where the tyranny of distance is solved with speed, and where an irregular enemy who chooses to fight at an urban marketplace or at an ambush site in a wadi is faced with the dilemma: ‘Where are they? I know they are coming, I just don't know when or where.’”

Speaking of current operations in Iraq, Amos talked in specifics about the impact Ospreys would have on field commanders’ ability to move troops to the fight and get wounded out in a fraction of the time typical today. Osprey implementation will have a measurable impact on lives saved in combat, he said.

The V-22 successfully passed operational evaluation this summer, achieving all the key performance parameters identified by the Marine Corps as essential to the Osprey’s role in its fighting forces. Recommendations from that OPEVAL validated the program’s roadmap for follow-on test and evaluation to add capabilities as the aircraft progresses toward its deployment date.
In September, a Defense Acquisition Board authorized full rate production for the Osprey, moving the program into a new phase that Taylor called the “road to IOC.”

Later this month, the Naval Air Systems Command will conduct the first stage of an IOC Supportability Review, to confirm the Osprey program’s ability to provide long-term logistics support and sustainability for the new MV-22 operational community. Taylor solicited fleet involvement in that process, giving the future operators a chance to grade the program on its readiness posture.

Leading the way for those future operators will be VMM-263, which will stand up as the first operational MV-22 squadron in March 2006 under the command of Lt. Col. Paul Rock. Rock accepted the keys for the first Block-B aircraft at the Dec. 8 ceremony.

Both the V-22 program and the aircraft itself have undergone significant reengineering in the last five years. As the user community grows, critical appraisal of the Osprey will belong increasingly to the men and women who are most qualified to judge its value, Taylor said, starting with VMM-263.

“Lt. Col. Rock and his people are going to keep us all accountable,” he said. “No one in this room should be satisfied unless he is satisfied.”

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