Osprey Brings Flexibility to Carrier Onboard Delivery

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The Navy’s next carrier onboard delivery (COD) platform, the Navy variant of the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, promises to bring increased flexibility to the mission while continuing the essential task of transporting cargo to the sea base.

The Navy awarded the joint manufacturers of the V-22 a $151 million contract March 31 to develop three new capabilities that will better enable the platform to perform the COD mission beginning in 2021.

Bell Boeing, a partnership between Bell Helicopter and Boeing Rotorcraft Systems, currently produces MV-22s for the Marines and CV-22s for the Air Force. The contract calls for Bell Boeing to modify the Marine version by engineering three new capabilities for the Navy’s variant, recently named the CMV-22B-extended range up to 1,150 nautical miles, beyond-visual-range high-frequency radio and a public address system.

The contract does not specify a method for extending the aircraft’s range by one third—the MV-22B’s listed range is 860 nautical miles—but the options proposed by the vendor are promising, and include modified sponsons to accommodate larger fuel tanks, said Brian Scolpino, civilian lead for the CMV-22.

The CV-22B achieves a listed range of 2,100 nautical miles using internal auxiliary fuel tanks, which the Navy will use for long-range transits, such as from the West Coast to Hawaii, “but for operational missions, we cannot sacrifice cargo space,” Scolpino said.

“The major requirement driver for the CMV-22B is supporting Carrier Strike Group operations in the Pacific within the vast distances involved,” he said. “The required range of 1,150 nautical miles is roughly half the distance from California to Hawaii. The need to fly these distances and still carry meaningful amounts of cargo to the ship presents a challenge.”

The distances the CMV-22B will be traveling are also why it needs a beyond-line-of-sight radio system capable of reaching ships past the horizon.

“This is a critical safety issue, particularly in the shore-to-ship mission profile, where often the aircrew has no divert options,” Scolpino said. “These long missions have a ‘point of no return,’ when the pilot has to make the decision to return to base or continue to the ship. Before this time, the aircrew must be able to contact the ship to determine its location, course and speed, as well as the weather and tactical situation.”

The extended range and high-frequency radio enable the delivery of cargo to the sea base, while the public address system is necessary for a secondary assignment—transporting passengers.

“Again, this is a safety issue,” Scolpino said. “Currently on the MV and the CV, you can communicate with troops via headsets or hand signals, but passengers do not have that training, so the crew needs another way to communicate and give them information or directions.”

These three changes will make the CMV-22B capable of performing the carrier-based logistics support mission the C-2 Greyhound has performed since 1965, but with additional flexibility. The runway-dependent Greyhound can only deliver to carriers, and then helicopters are used to disperse cargo to the rest of the strike group. With its vertical take-off-and-land capability, the CMV-22B could potentially bypass the carrier altogether and deliver cargo directly to a destroyer or guided missile cruiser.

“It’s a very attractive capability. That’s one of the things that the leadership saw when we put this scenario together, that it gave them a lot more operational flexibility,” Scolpino said. “That flexibility and the V-22’s relative affordability as an aircraft already in production were principle factors considered by Navy leadership during selection of the next COD platform.”

The Osprey offered other advantages. First, it is a maritime aircraft that performs a similar mission on large deck amphibious ships. Another advantage is that the V-22 is already in production, Scolpino said. “That meant we had a minimal development time since it was nearly off-the-shelf. We didn’t have to go through the long acquisition process that we normally would if we had to start from a clean sheet of paper,” he said.

Another cost-savings opportunity is to buy into the existing Marine Corps training program for aircrew and maintainers.

“We are drawing up military construction proposals for maintenance hangars as required on both coasts, and procuring ground support equipment with the help of [the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey],” Scolpino said.

The Navy does not plan to stand up new squadrons, but rather will leverage existing infrastructure to avoid additional cost. According to the Office of Naval Operations Air Warfare Division (N98), the Navy will keep the current COD crews in place at bases in Norfolk, Virginia, and North Island, California.

There is often resistance to change in these types of transitions, and the COD community, having flown the same aircraft for 50 years, was no different, Scolpino said.

“At first, there was resistance, because as human beings, we don’t like change, and there was a lack of familiarity with the capabilities of the platform,” Scolpino said. “Now, they’re becoming excited, especially the younger officers and crews, because they know they will have the chance to fly this aircraft and possibly expand the fleet logistics support mission.”

By Jeff Newman, Illustration courtesy of Bell Boeing