Commandant Says "There is Going to Be a Crash"
Earlier this week, my longtime amigo and dogged defense beat reporter Chris Castelli of Inside the Navy had breakfast (along with a number of other defense reporters) with General Conway, the Commandant of the Marine Corps. According to Chris' report, the commandant said the following:
That's an amazing statement for a service chief to make. I don't remember any similar quotes from any generals or admirals about the Super Hornet or the Raptor or any other platform. Obviously the Corps is still relatively gun-shy about this airplane.
What Gen. Conway didn't explain was why an Osprey is going to crash. Well, DT is here to help.
Now let me say up front, I'm a fan of the V-22 and believe in its potential. I want the airplane to kick butt once it gets to the tip of the spear this year. I also know a little bit about the program, having worked as PMA-275's spokesman at NAVAIR for three years (2002-2005) and having flown the sim and gone for flights in the airplane a number of times. But here is a prediction behind Gen. Conway's statement: In the first three years of fleet V-22 operations, the Marines will suffer six Class A flight mishaps with the Osprey. And here's how:
So that equals six lost aircraft (seven if you believe the midair will result in the loss of both Ospreys). The next time the topic comes up, Gen. Conway can offer a more complete answer.
Again, you won't hear the Air Force Chief of Staff or Chief of Naval Operations making similar comments about their new platforms, and it's not because they're unrealistic. Obviously, the Marines are still a bit "concerned" about this "revolutionary" technology they're getting, like it or not.
And beyond the mishap potential are concerns about the Osprey's sustainability. Remember, this is a program that hasn't been deployed yet but has obsolescence issues with subsystems. An item - a part of the prop-rotor gearbox, for instance - will fail at a rate not predicted by the engineers. And because they didn't predict it, the manufacture of it will not have been funded at an appropriate rate. Or worse, the company that manufactures the item will have gone out of business years ago (maybe even without the prime contractors' or government's knowledge). There will be none of these items in the supply chain and V-22s will sit idle, perhaps for months on end.
Another maintenance issue: The V-22 fuselage is made of composite materials. It's very light, by design. But over time it's going to crack both in places the engineers expect and in places they don't expect. These cracks are going to plague the squadrons for the entire operating history of the Osprey.
And don't forget the hydraulic system: 5,000 psi and titanium tubing. Let's see how well that can be maintained in the field for an extended period.
Another major indicator of USMC confidence for the V-22 will be where they choose to base it during the first deployment. Most likely they won't be based on an amphib, not because of world events but because the Osprey doesn't really fit on any of the amphibs very well (and it also has this potential problem where it warps the flight deck with its exhaust). The "brown water" Navy isn't in a big hurry to have them come aboard.
And as far as where they're based once in theater, let's keep it very simple: If the Marines believe this is the kick ass airplane that has kept it alive and funded for all the years in spite of the setbacks and the loss of life, then they'll base VMM-263 at Bagram or Al Asad. That's where the action is. That's where the enemy is. Otherwise, if they don't fully believe, they'll stick the "Thunderchickens" somewhere around the Horn of Africa and couch the move in terms like "emerging threat."
As I mentioned at the beginning, I'm a supporter of the program. I know many of the crews who will be leading the squadrons on the first deployments. I worked closely with VMX-22 during OPEVAL II. I would put pilots like "Mongo" Seymour up against the best Tomcat drivers I ever rode behind. In fact, I've never met a pilot, crew chief, or maintainer in the Osprey community who didn't blow me away with his or her professionalism and dedication to the mission. I want to be wrong with my prediction. But remember, I didn't bring the subject up; the Commandant of the Marine Corps did.
from this link