Updating the MV-22B Fleet
With the July 10 induction of a second aircraft at a new Boeing facility in Philadelphia, the effort to consolidate the myriad configurations in the Marine Corps’ fleet of tiltrotor MV-22B Ospreys is fully immersed in its discovery phase.
After an independent review that found significant impacts to readiness as a result of the 70-plus distinct configurations in a fleet of 300-plus MV-22Bs, the Marine Corps undertook an initiative to upgrade 129 “Block B” Ospreys, which ceased production in 2012, to the standard currently rolling off the line of “Block C” aircraft.
Known as Common Configuration-Readiness and Modernization (CC-RAM), the effort will reduce the number of configurations in the MV-22B fleet to a handful, in hopes of streamlining maintenance times by making repairs more predictable.
Based on the current difference in readiness rates between Blocks B and C aircraft, the program office expects to see a 15-percent improvement in the mission-capable rate of Ospreys that go through CC-RAM, said Col. Matthew Kelly, program manager for the V-22 Joint Program Office.
The independent review concluded in 2016 that the variation among MV-22Bs contributed to an increasing number of non-mission-capable aircraft because of maintenance requirements and supply shortages. The uncertainty maintainers encountered when working on so many different versions of Ospreys also meant increasing life-cycle support costs and, generally, negative net effects to all aspects of MV-22B sustainment.
Several factors led to the disparate configurations; chiefly, the constant demand for new requirements from the fleet across a decade-plus of combat operations.
“When the fleet says we need this capability right now to support troops in combat, we ramp up and do it,” Kelly said.
The differences between configurations are significant, ranging from pieces of hardware—such as weather radar, a new mission computer or even the avionics box—to the placement and function of wiring bundles. Some of the aircraft even have different fuel dump systems.
“There’s a lot of different types of things it could be, but they’re fairly significant, to the point that when a maintainer opens up the aircraft, he’s going to see something different,” Kelly said. “It’s not a nut here or a bolt there.”
Such capabilities upgrades were generally limited to small batches of aircraft coming off the production line, but “you do a number of those over time, and you wind up with subsets of 20 to 40 aircraft that have different things in them, and you end up with a big configuration issue,” Kelly said.
There should only be a handful of configurations across the fleet once the 129 Block B aircraft—which accounts for the bulk of the differences—have been retrofitted, Kelly said.
“The idea is to put them in the same squadron. It will never get to the point where the entire fleet is the same configuration, so maybe we have five or six configurations across the entire fleet, but each location, each squadron, will have its own configuration, which will be really helpful,” he said.
Once they only have one configuration of Osprey to worry about, maintainers will know what to expect during repairs and can stockpile spare parts, Kelly said.
“When you have a squadron that has the same configuration of aircraft, you have the same technical data, maintenance manuals, troubleshooting procedures, supply chain, kit parts, tools and support equipment,” Kelly said. “When they go out to do troubleshooting or some procedure on an aircraft, they won’t have to wonder what they’re going to find. They won’t mistakenly use the wrong procedure or grab the wrong tool. And when they need a part, they won’t have five different versions to potentially choose from. They’ll know the one part that they need, and they’ll already have it on the shelf.
“Having a common aircraft to support buys you a significant upgrade in readiness.”
Pre-engineering work for CC-RAM began in August 2017, and the first two MV-22s were inducted Jan. 24 and July 10 at the Boeing facility in Philadelphia, which combined the platform’s production line with that of CC-RAM so technicians on both can share engineering expertise as well as tools and equipment.
The two Ospreys are meant to serve as learning aircraft, informing the rest of the CC-RAM program, and should take about the same amount of time to complete, with the first scheduled to be done by summer 2019, Kelly said.
“We’re pleased with the progress that we’ve seen on the first aircraft, and the first couple are meant to help us understand how to most efficiently do this kind of complex modification, where you’re taking 60 to 70 different engineering changes that were designed independently and now doing them all together,” he said.
These lessons will then be applied to the third Osprey, which will arrive in Philadelphia in January and be used to solidify procedures for the remaining aircraft, which should take significantly less time.
As Boeing technicians continuously refine their process, the goal is to have each CC-RAM aircraft turn around in approximately eight months, with upwards of 20 being completed annually, Kelly said.
Depending on funding and pricing negotiations, the total effort should take about eight years, he added.
No program has been defined beyond the initial 129 aircraft, but the long-term goal is to ultimately cycle back and upgrade the roughly 200 aircraft that make up the remainder of the MV-22 fleet, Kelly said.
A part of every at-sea Marine Expeditionary Unit and land-based deployment—and soon the Navy’s carrier onboard delivery (COD) platform—MV-22s “are everywhere,” Kelly said. “We are the backbone of Marine Corps self-support, and the Navy has the COD requirements, but we think they’ll probably find some other things that they might want to do with V-22.”
Kelly noted roll-on, roll-off capabilities under development—such as the V-22 Aerial Refueling System—as well as digital interoperability packages that help connect battlefield networks as emerging technologies that will only make the MV-22 more popular in the fleet.
“The V-22 is the most in-demand aircraft in the Department of Defense. We are the lead platform for a number of different capabilities, so the ability for the aircraft to be reliable, maintainable and flyable is paramount,” Kelly said. “Those capabilities don’t mean much if the airplane isn’t ready to go, and CC-RAM is the foundation for V-22 readiness for the next 30 years. Improving reliability while reducing life-cycle costs is going to make this a sustainable aircraft for the next generation of Marine aviators that come fly it.”
Jeff Newman is a staff writer for Naval Aviation News.