Marines with Battery S, 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, made Marine Corps history as the first Marines to demonstrate the tow capabilities of the V-22 Osprey, which vertically lifted and maneuvered a M777 towed howitzer, Aug. 7.
“My team did extremely well,” said Wendel. “They did better than I thought they would especially for the first time.”
The demonstration was part of a field exercise helping to prepare the battery for a scheduled deployment with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
This training involved planning for raids and implementing the tow capability of the Osprey to reposition the howitzer quickly into position to support ground troops.
The exercise prepared the Marines to be self-sufficient at connecting and detaching the howitzer to and from an Osprey as it hovered overhead.
“It was pretty crazy under there,” said Cpl. Gerald W. Wendel, a section chief. “It was the strongest wind I had ever felt in my life. You can barely see or move. We pretty much had to ride the wind. Sand was flying everywhere, but the Marines did it. They adapted and overcame. It went extremely well.”
The Marines practiced a few dry runs through the scenario before the arrival of the aircraft for the pick up.
The Marines were highly motivated to have the opportunity to be the first gun crew to do this, said Wendel.
Once the howitzer was off the ground the pilots flew to another nearby landing zone where the gun was detached from the aircraft and placed into position for aiming in on imaginary targets.
“It was a pretty good lift with very minor damage,” said Gunnery Sgt. Nicholas Manganiello, the battery gunnery sergeant. “We can still put rounds down range, move and communicate. That’s our mission. As long as we can do that we are good.”
After successfully attaching the howitzer to the aircraft the Marines enjoyed their first flight in an Osprey as they were flown to the designated landing zone to finish the exercise with a dry-fire mission.
The V-22 Osprey just keeps proving itself up to the task as a replacement for the aging Marine transport. Flying further, faster and higher, proving itself capable of equipment transport is an added benefit compared to the troop transport duty it mainly saw in Anbar, Iraq.
The Captain’s Journal proudly stirs the pot and agitates yet another interservice kerfuffle over money – or rather, how it is spent.
We have a category for the V-22 Osprey troop transport aircraft, and long ago strongly suspected that it would be an outstanding success in its debut deployment in Iraq. It has been, but a recent analysis at the National Journal entitled Future Corps (an analysis which itself it worth protracted study time) points to larger problems with the aging Marine air fleet and the role of the V-22.
At the end of April, a squadron of the Marine Corps’s new V-22 Ospreys returned from the aircraft’s first overseas deployment, a seven-month tour in Iraq. The Corps trotted out pilots and ground crews to talk up the $67 million machine, a hybrid of helicopter and propeller plane whose revolutionary tilt-rotor technology took 25 years to develop and claimed 30 lives in crashes along the way.
Largely overlooked in the coverage and the controversy over the V-22 itself, however, is the fact that the aircraft was never meant to stand, or to fight, alone. The Osprey is simply the single most expensive element of an ambitious plan to re-equip the Marine Corps to execute a new kind of sea-based blitzkrieg.
Marine officers began to develop the concept, often called “operational maneuver from the sea,” a quarter-century ago at the height of the Cold War, when the rise of advanced anti-ship missiles was already threatening any fleet massed for a conventional, large-scale landing in the style of Iwo Jima. Today, the V-22 and key technologies like it are finally entering service in a world radically different from the one in which they were conceived–a world in which some of the weapons that the Soviets developed 25 years ago are now in the hands of guerrillas and terrorists in developing countries.
For the Marine Corps, looking forward to a large-scale pullback from Iraq even as it takes on a new mission in Afghanistan, the vision is not merely about new technology. It is about returning to the Corps’s historic role as a shipborne rapid-reaction force after five years of grueling ground warfare alongside the Army.
“We’re not a second land army,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Benes, the director of expeditionary warfare on the Chief of Naval Operations’ staff. “We can always be used to complement the [Army's] mission on the ground, and we don’t shy away from a fight,” he emphasized. “But our real traditional role of being a naval force is what we want to get back to.”
To carry out this old role in a new way with new equipment, however, will be expensive. Like the Army, the Marine Corps has worn out in Iraq much of its inventory of weapons, aircraft, and vehicles, most of which were bought during the Reagan-era buildup. Unlike the Army, which has packaged its main modernization programs into a single, high-profile, hard-to-explain and heavily criticized Future Combat System, Marine modernization is scattered across a half-dozen programs, some small enough to fly below most media and congressional radars. What’s more, because the future Marine force will be carried into battle on Navy ships built with Navy money, about a sixth of the total cost to realize the Corps’s vision will not be counted in the Corps’s budget …
“There were a lot of arguments for and against the V-22,” said Robert Work, a retired Marine colonel who is an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “Five years ago, I was not a fan. But the bottom line is, now there really is no other option. The war has essentially worn out the Marine Corps helicopter fleet. The V-22 is the answer we’re going to make work” …
The Osprey’s speed and range are arguably overkill for Iraq, where most missions are short-range hops in and out of the many U.S. bases. Its aptitude for altitude, however, has already proven useful: Insurgents have shot down conventional U.S. helicopters with machine guns, but the V-22 can climb to 13,000 feet, too high to hit with small-arms fire. Insurgents have occasionally used shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which can reach higher targets, but flying higher than conventional helicopters gives Osprey pilots more reaction time to drop flares and evade.
A rumored deployment of V-22s to Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are spread thin over vast distances and at high altitudes, should be a better test of the V-22′s performance. But where the Osprey really shines is at even longer ranges. When the marines first deployed from their ships to Afghanistan in 2001, for example, they had to move in laborious stages from the Indian Ocean with the help of landing areas in Pakistan. With the V-22, the same force could have flown over Pakistani territory and hit the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in two hours.
And for the Army future combat system? It includes things like the exoskeleton.
A complex interconnected array of computers, motors, servos, electronic feedback loops, load bearing members and batteries which deplete far too quickly, the exoskeleton is supposed to assist the Soldier in the field by amplifying human movements.
The Marines say “uh, huh.” Batteries which wear out, a system that is heavy and bulky and uncomfortable, weeks or even months of training required to use it, the inability to perform mounted patrols, untold and yet to be determined equipment interference problems – where is the body armor, hydration system, backpack, weapon and ammunition going to go – and the likelihood that upon (the highly probable) malfunction it will be jettisoned in the field, and the Marines will probably respond: “The V-22 flies. You might not like what we spent to get it there, but at least we didn’t throw money after that monstrosity. Are you proud of yourselves?”
Today a defense and security policy analyst and consultant firm in the Washington, D.C. area searched on the following words: “new tanker cannot refuel V-22.” He found our article taking some issue with Abu Muqawama on the award of the refueling tanker contract to Northrop Grumman rather than Boeing. He learned nothing from our article, but we learned from his search. Hmmm … said we, and we cracked our knuckles and did a little work to see just what treasures we could dig up.
As it turns out, the Boeing press release protesting the award of the contract contains some pregnant statements, one of which is:
“It is clear that the original mission for these tankers — that is, a medium-sized tanker where cargo and passenger transport was a secondary consideration — became lost in the process, and the Air Force ended up with an oversized tanker,” McGraw said. “As the requirements were changed to accommodate the bigger, less capable Airbus plane, evaluators arbitrarily discounted the significant strengths of the KC-767, compromising on operational capabilities, including the ability to refuel a more versatile array of aircraft such as the V-22 and even the survivability of the tanker during the most dangerous missions it will encounter.”
… which aircraft were left out, and what factors would allow the KC-767 to refuel them where the A330 MRTT could not. We have also requested elaboration on what would make the KC-767 more survivable, given that both aircraft would be equipped with the same defensive systems.
The Osprey seems to have become a favorite of commanders who need to get to places quickly, including Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq. Petraeus used one to fly around the country on Christmas Day to visit troops.
“Gen. Petraeus flew in the jump seat and was very impressed by the aircraft’s capabilities,” according to Col. Steve Boylan, a spokesman for the general.
“The rate of climb is exceptional, and it can fly about twice as fast as a Black Hawk [helicopter], without needing to refuel as frequently,” Boylan said. “Beyond that, its automatic-hover capability for use in landing in very dusty conditions, even at night, is tremendous.”
Petraeus chose the Osprey for that mission because it was the only aircraft in the inventory that could fly around the country without refueling and not rely on runways, Boylan said.
We don’t know anything else about the new tanker, since no one has contracted The Captain’s Journal to oversee the procurement process for the new Air Force refueling tanker. But we have always been fans of the Osprey. As a Marine blog, if the new tanker cannot refuel the V-22, then we say “screw it.”
It’s brief, but the USMC has released the first video of the V-22 Osprey in operation in Anbar.
The context: The footage of the tiltrotors appeared briefly as part of a USMC news story focusing on preparations in Western Iraq for the Haj, an annual religious pilgrammage. The two MV-22s were filmed clearing a landing zone along the route.