Jewish World Review Sept. 24, 2002 / 18 Tishrei, 5763
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | In the weeks ahead, the outlines of next year's defense budget will begin to take shape. It has been widely reported that the Pentagon leadership views this as its most opportune, and perhaps final, chance to put into place the "transformation" of the military that has been a central objective of the Bush presidency from its inception. The decision-making process is producing intense speculation about which program(s) will be deemed to be insufficiently transformational and, therefore, will meet the fate of the recently terminated Crusader artillery system.
Of all the aircraft, ships and other weapons that are currently in contention for the dubious distinction of becoming "the next Crusader," the least likely candidate is the V-22 "tiltrotor" plane long sought by the Marine Corps and Special Operations Command. After all, as a roundtable discussion co-sponsored by the Center for Security Policy, Heritage Foundation and Potomac Institute will vividly demonstrate today [9/24], the V-22 is actually an exemplar of transformation -- both literally and in terms of the revolutionary capabilities it will afford the armed forces and the Nation as a whole.
Tiltrotor technology transforms the V-22 "Osprey" in flight from an aircraft that can take off and land like a helicopter into one that can fly at speeds and over distances no helicopter can match -- indeed, comparable to the performance of a conventional turboprop. This extraordinary physical reconfiguration makes possible an even more dramatic transformation of the Marine and special operations units that will employ the Osprey: giving them an ability to project power far more rapidly, stealthily and lethally and, importantly, with a far smaller logistical "footprint" than is the case with today's helicopters and any foreseeable alternatives.
This conclusion has been validated repeatedly over the years by myriad Pentagon and independent analyses. The most recent of these is a just-completed study performed by the ANSER Corporation. It concluded that the V-22 would have enormously facilitated, and reduced the cost of, the liberation of Afghanistan. Naturally, it would be a similarly huge "force- multiplier" in any campaign to free the people of Iraq.
The latest confirmation of such findings comes as the V-22's flight test program -- resumed a few months ago after a number of fatal crashes and the incorporation of several safety improvements and redesigned subsystems -- demonstrates that there are no technological impediments to exploiting the tiltrotor's transformational potential. While months of additional tests are planned, pilots currently obliged to operate the military's fleet of obsolescing CH-46 and CH-53 helicopters already appreciate that the V-22 will represent a quantum improvement in their ability to perform their missions effectively and safely. They are mindful that revolutionary aviation breakthroughs like the Osprey have rarely been accomplished by the armed forces without accidents and loss of life and that the sacrifice entailed thus far will be rewarded by far fewer losses in future combat and peacetime operations.
The V-22's critics still hope to persuade the Pentagon leadership that the costs of acquiring hundreds of these planes will be unaffordable. The fact is that replacing the Marines and special operations forces' aging helicopters with Ospreys will be expensive. Unless, however, these units are going to be put out of business -- a singularly unlikely prospect given their extraordinary performance and increasing importance in the war on terrorism -- a huge investment is going to have to be made, one way or another, in modernizing their aviation assets. As the various cost-effectiveness studies mentioned above have consistently found, the marginal additional expense associated with tiltrotor technology is more than offset by improved survivability, performance, reliability and streamlined logistics.
These considerations are virtually certain to translate into the use of the V-22 or its derivatives (including, possibly, a four-propellor version for heavier lift applications) by each of the other armed services -- once the Marine Corps has proven the tiltrotor's effectiveness and safety. If so, the Osprey's contribution to the transformation of the military will be even greater than will be the case under present planning assumptions.
In addition to underscoring the foregoing, today's roundtable will also illuminate another reason why the V-22 must not meet the Crusader's fate: Tiltrotor technology can transform a number of other national priorities. These include greatly enhanced search-and-rescue missions and others assigned to the Coast Guard and improving enormously homeland security and emergency management tasks performed by the National Guard and state and local agencies. The Osprey variants will also open up a host of civil aviation applications, not least in overseas markets like Japan and Europe where the appetite for commercial air service conflicts with severe constraints on land for long-runway-equipped airports.
The good news is that key Pentagon decision-makers, notably Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary for Acquisition Pete Aldridge and Program Analysis and Evaluation Director Steve Cambone, have recently taken a first-hand look at the V-22 program's status and progress with visits to its test facility at Patuxent River, Maryland. If, as appears to be the case, they appreciate that the Osprey will greatly advance their campaign to transform the military, the V-22 will not become that campaign's next programmatic casualty.
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