So a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey completed a very publicly reported CSAR mission in Libya (OK, the real name for this is TRAP—Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel—as the location of the pilot was known). But the mission has provided food for thought for those who wished to discount the tiltrotor as a rescue platform. Granted it went into a relatively benign environment—well, not benign for those anti-Gaddafi Libyans on the ground who were wounded during the mix-up of who was friendly and who wasn’t—but nevertheless a rescue performed at range, during a shooting war, to bring out isolated personnel. Seems like a CSAR-type of mission to me.
Launching off the USS Kearsarge, the mission took 90 minutes and was conducted around 130 nautical miles from the ship. Now just on transit time alone, that is already a two-hour trip for a helicopter without considering the amount of time taken to verify the position and identify of the pilot on the ground from those people who were obviously already around his position. There would also be time taken to conduct the necessary aerial preparations prior to beginning the swoop down for extraction.
The reported timelines make interesting reading:
• 2333B Mar 21: USAF F-15E goes down, pilot and WSO eject safely
• 0050B: Mar 22: 2xAV-8Bs launch USS Kearsarge (KSG)
• 0055B: JFACC approves TRAP
• 0120B: MEU KC-130J launch Sigonella IOT refuel TRAP aircraft
• 0120B: AV-8Bs overhead downed pilots with F-16 in comms with F-15 pilot
• 0130B: (quick reaction force) QRF 2xCH53E ready for launch with 46 Marines
• 0133B: AV-8Bs drop 2xGBU-12 ISO F-15 pilot
• 0133B: 2xMV-22s launch KSG
• 0151B: QRF (CH-53E) launch KSG
• 0219B: MV-22s overhead F-15 pilot
• 0238B: MV-22 lands LZ recovers F-15 pilot
• 0300B: MV-22s recover KSG with F-15 pilot
• WSO reported in-hands of opposition forces at safe house
So the time taken from the MV-22 picking-up the pilot and getting him back to the ship was 22 minutes. Had the pilot been injured and in need of medical attention, that speedy dash may just have saved his life. Perhaps the Air Force should include the Osprey in its CSAR deliberations after all?