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Marines Want To Accelerate MV-22 Buy

File photo: CV-22 Osprey.
by Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Jun 09, 2006
The U.S. Marine Corps hopes to redirect more than $230 million in the emergency war supplemental from programs like Night Vision Goggles and explosive ordnance disposal equipment to buy three MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

The controversial MV-22 -- which has had a long and troubled development, including two fatal crashes in the year 2000 that killed 23 Marines -- was approved earlier this year by the Pentagon to enter production.

The reductions in favor of the MV-22 purchase have raised the ire of the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington watchdog and advocacy group, which charges that the Marine Corps is sacrificing equipment needed by ground troops in Iraq for the aircraft built by Boeing Company's helicopter division in Ridley Park, PA, and Bell Helicopter Textron of Fort Worth.

Marine Corps officials denied that charge Tuesday, saying that night vision goggles are on significant backorder, and that what is needed in the field now are replacement helicopters.

"We have placed so much previous supplemental funding on contract for Night Vision Goggles that there is a considerable production backlog built up. What that means is that any dollar devoted to the procurement of NVGs will not produce a deliverable until that backlog has been worked off," he told UPI. "This is partially because there are so few NVG vendors and (because) all of the Services are simultaneously placing orders from a small production base."

The Marine Corps has lost at least 27 aircraft in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa in the last four years, and there are no "hot" helicopter production lines to replace them. Aircraft is being pulled from training and other missions to fill holes in warfighting deployments.

The CH-46, one of two aircraft the MV-22 is meant to replace, is already 40 years old and is aging rapidly in the harsh desert and mountainous conditions in which it flies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The helicopters must fly more than twice their standard "utilization" rate, driving up maintenance even further.

Moreover, because there are no hot production lines, many of the spare parts for the helicopters have to be machined on special order in small private companies, driving up the cost.

"The cost to sustain CH-46 fleet operations is becoming increasingly untenable," the Marine official said. "So we must either accelerate MV-22 deliveries or pay additional sustainment dollars for an aircraft we have no intention of keeping in the fleet one moment beyond when the MV-22 replacement aircraft are available."

The Marine Corps dearly covets the MV-22 for its speed and range, and believes the technical problems that have plagued the system over the last decade of development are behind it.

"I don't know about you, but flying in a 40-plus-year-old helicopter under near continuous stress that can't travel as fast or as far as a MV-22 is not my idea of supporting the warfighter -- quite the opposite. Why wait two to three years for delivery of additional NVGs when I can get MV-22s in 18-24 months?"

POGO believes otherwise.

"We must point out how this situation is an example of a government expenditure that would be irresponsible and would waste taxpayer dollars," POGO wrote in a letter to members of Congress Tuesday. "The aircraft still lacks combat maneuverability in a High Risk environment, a descriptor that definitely includes Iraq, and cannot be equipped with defensive weaponry."

The emergency supplemental, which is supposed to shortly go into conference with the House and the Senate, transfers $41 million from night vision goggles, $111 million in explosive ordnance disposal equipment, and $51 million from the family of internally transportable vehicles, among other cuts requested by the Corps.

"All of the items 'traded' for the MV-22 option are in the same or similar category as the NVGs. We can afford a slight delay in requesting those items at less risk than we can continue to operate an old and diminishing inventory of CH-46s. In the risk/benefit analysis world, this is a 'no-brainer,'" the Marine official said.

Source: United Press International

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