An MV-22 Osprey takes off from the flight deck of the USS Nassau. (Photo by National Museum of the U.S. Navy)
Foreseeing the possibility that the service will find use for the tiltrotor aircraft outside of carrier onboard delivery (COD) missions, Bell hopes to extend production of the V-22 Osprey beyond its current multi-year contract with the U.S. Navy.
The Bell-Boeing team that builds the V-22 is slated to produce at least 58 Ospreys for the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and the government of Japan. Thirty-nine of those will be the CMV-22b variant with increased fuel capacity and range for the Navy COD mission, replacing the aging C-2A Greyhound with an aircraft capable of ferrying replacement Pratt & Whitney F135 engines to F-35 Joint Strike Fighters aboard carriers.
In use since the 1960s, the C-2A transport aircraft boast an impressive safety record, but their readiness challenges drew attention from lawmakers after one crashed into the Philippine sea in November 2017, resulting in three dead sailors.
In September of last year, Rear Adm. Scott Conn, director of air warfare on the chief of naval operations staff, testified before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces the service planned to speed up its transition from the C-2A to the Osprey.
“We have accelerated the sundown of the C-2A from 2027 to 2024,” Conn said. “We have our first (CMV-22B) aircraft being built in Philadelphia today… We then [reach initial operational capability] and get our first three aircraft to deploy in 2021. There is no means by which I can accelerate that any further.”
Chris Gehler, vice president and V-22 program director at Bell, told R&WI in a Jan. 15 interview that the Navy may find uses for the V-22 outside of the COD mission. With the CMV-22B scheduled for deployment in 2021, he says the Navy “wants to validate their operations and evaluate whether or not they want to buy more aircraft.”
“I think the Navy sees that the aircraft has a lot of utility, a lot of versatility, that just hasn’t been tapped yet for what they could do,” Gehler said. “There’s clearly the carrier mission, but there are other things to be done, and there is probably a Navy need for additional aircraft to do other missions without detracting from the COD mission itself.”
The V-22 production line — Boeing assembles the fuselage in Philadelphia, Bell attaches the nacelles and wings in Amarillo Texas — has work through 2025 under the current multi-year contract, according to Gehler.
Bell and Boeing are operating under a $4.2 billion multi-year contract that provides for the manufacture and maintenance of at least 58 V-22 aircraft.
Two CMV-22Bs are scheduled for delivery to NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, late this year for flight tests, with one additional test aircraft to be delivered in 2020.
“We think it will be early enough, with that deployment in 2021, to structure another production, whether that’s a multi-year 4 with additional Air Force or Marine aircraft, or something else,” Gehler said. “Between the Navy, potentially additional Air Force aircraft, and [foreign military sales], there could certainly be a multi-year 4. There’s the potential for that.”