The U.S. Navy’s future Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) requirement looks like it’s breaking down into a straight fight between a modernized version of the current aircraft, Northrop Grumman’s C-2A Greyhound, and the new contender in the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey. At the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition at National Harbor, Md. (from April 8-10), both of the contenders were highlighting why their platform was the most suitable and affordable.
Northrop Grumman’s director of the C-2 Greyhound program Steve Squires said that the Navy would be buying into continuity if it selected to modernize its existing 35 Greyhounds. The Northrop Grumman offer is to leverage the Navy’s investment in upgrading its E-2D Hawkeye, with a focus on a new center wing section and new engines together with an upgraded C-2A cabin. This would bring commonality of platform between the two aircraft closer together with a saving in logistics, not to mention crew training and operation.
Squires said that two aircraft currently operating a six-month detachment will haul one million pounds of cargo, transport 5,000 passengers and log around 1,000 flight hours. Regarding future operations in the Pacific Ocean, he pointed to studies that showed a requirement for a 1,300-nm reach carrying 10,000 lbs/26 passengers—or a combination of both.
However, he added that regular operations usually meant typical loads of between 5,000-6,000 lbs. He said new Rolls Royce T56-427A engines (5,100 shp) on the E-2D Hawkeye would result in a 13-15 percent fuel savings.
The existing C2 Greyhounds will be close to their out-of-service deadline between 2020-2025.
In contrast, the Bell-Boeing partnership believes that the Osprey, while suitable for the COD mission, can also add value by potentially increasing its utility in ship-to-ship resupply and load transfer. The landing on the carrier may be the last in a series of landings when delivering to a carrier battle group, suggested Richard Linhart, vice president of military business development at Bell Helicopter, speaking to Rotor & Wing at the Sea-Air-Space convention.
With the U.S. Marine Corps heading toward being the biggest user of the MV-22B Osprey at 360 aircraft, a requirement has already been identified by the U.S. Navy for 48 V-22s to fulfill multi-mission roles, meaning a leap to another 35 or so Ospreys would just add numbers to a new type coming into service.
Linhart also said that testing was underway for the Osprey to act as an aerial refueling platform, potentially for F-18 fighters. “The Osprey flying at 250 knots [not its maximum speed] could do the job effectively,” he said. Wind tunnel tests have been conducted over the last year on how the drogue basket would be deployed from the V-22. USMC and the U.S. Air Force currently carry out refueling the Osprey to extend its range, but the V-22 acting as a tanker would be a new mission.
Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is another potential mission that could be offered to the Navy, pushing out the acoustic search for submarines beyond the current range of the fleet’s dedicated Sea Hawks. “The aircraft could certainly drop sonar buoys,” said Linhard, although he added that there is no current solution on offer.
The Navy does have one problem that neither aircraft can currently meet—the delivery of a Joint Strike Fighter engine from shore to ship over distance. Neither aircraft can carry the engine internally in one piece, due to the way it is packaged. The V-22 could take it as an underslung load but it would be impractical to do so over any meaningful distance. “We are working with the program people on a number of ideas,” stated Linhart.
The U.S. Navy could issue a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) as early as next year with a potential decision in 2015. Actual funding may then be expected around 2017 (given the usual provisions associated with the Department of Defense’s budgeting issues).