CMV-22B Osprey Completes F-35’s Golden Mile

The Naval Air Systems Command Cargo Lab and Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 22 evaluate a developmental V-22 Osprey compatible F-35 Lightning II engine component transport system aboard USS Wasp (LHD 1) in May 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Anne K. Henry)

By Cmdr. Sam Bryant, Lt. Col. Mark Woodard and Randle Tolliver

With deployment of its F-35 Lightning II variant fast approaching, the Navy-Marine Corps team is working hard to bring another aircraft program online with a key enabling capability to the F-35’s success—delivering its immense engine to ships at sea.

In addition to increased flexibility and cargo capacity, the U.S. Navy’s next carrier onboard delivery (COD) platform, the CMV-22B Osprey, will allow the service to clear the final hurdle in its logistics support of the F-35C, the Navy’s Lightning II variant.

The Navy first delivered an aircraft engine at sea in June 1958, when a TF-1 Trader—redesignated as C-1A in 1962—conveyed an F2H-3 Banshee jet’s Westinghouse J34 turbojet engine 300 miles to sea to USS Yorktown (CV 10). Ever since, it has been an enduring requirement that COD aircraft be able to transport aircraft engines and components on the last and most critical leg of their journey—the carrier air wing (CVW) at sea. Because this final leg can only be completed by a carrier-based aircraft, neither the Air Force nor commercial services can close this final link in the supply chain from shore to ship at sea—known as the “golden mile.”

In 1962, when the Navy decided to buy a COD derivative of its new Airborne Early Warning aircraft, the E-2 Hawkeye, the need for long-range transport of aircraft engines and other large components led to an expanded fuselage and the addition of a rear loading ramp. The resulting aircraft, the C-2 Greyhound, debuted as the Navy’s new COD platform in 1965 and has served in that capacity ever since.

Though the F-35 will add significant combat potential to Navy and Marine air wings, its engine has presented significant challenges in providing at-sea logistics support. Both the Marine’s F-35B and Navy’s F-35C variants use the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine, but its power module—at 9,350 pounds when inside a storage container, it is the engine’s heaviest and bulkiest component—is both too heavy for smaller vertical replenishment (VERTREP) platforms such as the MH-60 helicopter, and too large to fit inside the C-2, leaving the only options being a heavy VERTREP with a H-53 or V-22. In addition, the power module’s weight exceeds the underway replenishment (UNREP) capability of amphibious assault ships and all carriers except USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) and USS George Washington (CVN 73), which are both planned for a heavy UNREP upgrade.

With the first deployment of the F-35B—scheduled for fiscal 2018—providing a sense of urgency, the Marine Corps in May 2015 coordinated with Pratt & Whitney and Boeing to successfully remove a power module from its container, load it onto a sled that could fit inside a MV-22 and fly it out to an LHA. That November, based on the results of a cost-benefit analysis, the Navy—which had already chosen the Osprey as its next COD platform—designated V-22 internal transport as the primary method for resupplying carriers, LHDs, LHAs and LHA(R)s with F135 engine power modules.

The F-35 Joint Program Office has contracted Pratt & Whitney to redesign and produce a transport skid for the power module.

Being able to put the power module inside a V-22 is significant because other options such as the H-53 can only carry it about 50 nautical miles via external lift. The capability to transport the module internally extends the range considerably, up to 1,000 nautical miles.

Where the V-22 really shines is taking the critical logistics out to a distance that gives the carrier strike group flexibility. The CMV-22B is designed to carry maximum cargo for more than 1,100 nautical miles, whereas the C-2 can’t fly that far in a maximum cargo configuration. Typical ship-to-shore planning is currently at a max range of 800-1,000 nautical miles, and the C-2A is very cargo-weight limited at that range. The Navy variant of the Osprey is not as limited—it will carry 6,000 pounds for 1,100 nautical miles, whereas the Greyhound can only take about 800 pounds of cargo with typical shore-to-ship mission planning constraints up to 1,000 nautical miles before it runs out of gas.

It is also important to note that the CMV-22B will extend its range significantly over its Marine Corps counterpart, the MV-22, with several engineering changes that provide more fuel and more operational range, making the Navy’s variant uniquely suited to the COD mission.

“Making the decision to designate the CMV-22B as the primary F-35C at-sea support platform resolves a lot of logistic uncertainty,” said Capt. Rick “Slash” Crecelius, former Commanding Officer of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101 and current deputy director of the Navy’s F-35C Fleet Integration Office.

In addition, the Osprey will allow for direct delivery to amphibious ships as well as carriers.

It’s transformational in that it gives us a lot of flexibility for the future of logistics. We can take more cargo further, while cutting entire legs out of the supply chain.

The first batch of C-2 pilots transitioning to the V-22 began training in October at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina. The Navy will purchase the CMV-22B next year, with fielding of the first test aircraft projected for the end of 2019 and delivery of the first operational aircraft in 2020.

The CMV-22B is scheduled for deployment in 2021, in line with the initial operational deployment of the F-35C as well as follow-on CVW deployments, including the planned transition with forward deployed naval forces.

Cmdr. Sam Bryant is the requirements officer for the Navy CMV-22B, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Air Warfare (OPNAV N98); Lt. Col. Mark Woodard, is the requirements officer for the Marine Corps MV-22, OPNAV N98; and Mr. Randle Tolliver is the deputy requirements officer for the Navy CMV-22B, OPNAV N98.