The U.S. Air Force may send some of its few CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft into combat ahead of schedule because of a shortage of MH-53 Pave Low special operations helicopters. Gen. Michael "Buzz" Moseley, Air Force chief of staff, revealed his service’s interest in rushing the CV-22 into service during a speech to an Air Force Assn. meeting in Washington in late September.
Under existing plans, the CV-22 would get its initial operational capability certification in early 2009, meaning that under Moseley’s proposal, the Osprey’s combat debut for the Air Force would likely come in 2008.
Moseley offered his comments as the first squadron of Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys ever to go into combat made their way to Iraq for a seven-month deployment. The MV-22s of Marine Medium Tilt-rotor Sqdn. 263 will carry troops and supplies, evacuate casualties, and fly other missions as called on. The Air Force’s CV-22s are to carry special operations troops on secret missions, often flying low to the ground and at night.
Moseley said that, after the non-fatal crash of a Sikorsky Aircraft MH-53 at Hurlburt Field, Fla., on Sept. 7, the Air Force has only 21 left of the 41 Pave Lows it originally bought for special operations. He also said "delays in appropriation, production and delivery" of the CV-22 argued for putting it into service without waiting for official declaration of initial operational capability.
"In light of the slow production rate, we are looking at options to deploy the CV-22s early — pre-initial operational capability, in fact — to prevent a mission-impacting loss of vertical lift and covert insertion capability for our nation’s special operations forces," Moseley said. — By Richard Whittle