Military

UPDATED: US V-22s Can’t Fly Half The Time And That Won’t Improve ‘Soon Enough’

By Dan Parsons | May 9, 2019
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An MV-22 Osprey takes off from the flight deck of the USS Nassau. (Photo by National Museum of the U.S. Navy)

Just over half of the U.S. military's V-22 Ospreys are ready to fly missions at any given time and the service doesn’t plan to hit its target readiness rate as soon as it would like, according to program manager Col. Matthew Kelly.

The fleet’s readiness rate, including both the Marine Corps MV-22 and Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 reportedly hovers at about 52 percent. Without specifying a number -- the program office does not comment on specific readiness rates because of operational security -- Kelly said May 6 that the aircraft were not available as often as the services need them to be. A goal of 80 percent readiness, set by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, is achievable but will take some time yet.

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“Not soon enough,” Kelly said at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference here.. “We have put together a readiness plan to get us there, but we hope to beat that plan. We’re hoping to be there sooner rather than later.”

Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, on the same day at the same conference, said MV-22 mission readiness rates have been more than 70 percent since the beginning of last year, a relative success story.

Earlier this year, the program office signed a five-year performance-based logistics contract with Bell and Boeing, the manufacturers of the V-22. It was “the first contract I’ve ever seen, from a logistics standpoint, that really aligns the fleet’s desires, the fleet’s needs for readiness with industry incentives,” Kelly said.

“The fleet gets what they want and industry gets to earn profit,” he said.

Under the contract, both companies are incentivized to keep the aircraft mission ready and are paid accordingly.

Already, the program office has seen a 40 percent reduction in long-term down aircraft since the beginning of 2019. Between fiscal 2017 and 2018, it saw a 7 percent increase in readiness rates. Between fiscal 2018 and early 2019, the rate grew another 5 percent, Kelly said.

“We’ve seen some good things,” he said. “We expect those things to continue. We’re not where we want to be, but we think we’ve got the right incentives, contracts and tools in place — and focus — to really get those numbers up where they need to be.”

With most of the Marine Corps’ program of record fulfilled — it has 326 of 360 required MV-22s — the program has refocused on readiness of the aircraft already fielded.

“Readiness is our number-one priority across the program,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t matter how many great things the V-22 can do — how far, how fast — if we don’t have them ready when our warfighters need them.”

There are several ongoing efforts to promote fleet readiness, two of which are the common-configuration readiness and modernization (CCRAM) and nacelle improvement programs.

Four aircraft are inducted in CCRAM of 129 MV-22s Block B aircraft — built between five and 15 years ago — up to a 2019 configuration through system replacements and overhaul at Boeing’s manufacturing facility outside Philadelphia. The work includes about 60 engineering change proposals to improve both reliability and capability.

“It’s not a total reset of the aircraft, but it is a significant upgrade to those systems that does include some over-and-aboves or outstanding gripes on the aircraft,” Kelly said.

A fifth aircraft will enter CCRAM this summer around the time the first aircraft should emerge from its makeover.

Nacelle improvements are aimed at reducing how much time maintainers spend caring for the nacelles, the rotating pieces at the end of the wings that house the engine, gearbox and rotor system. Nacelles take up a disproportionate amount of maintenance compared to the rest of the aircraft, Kelly said.

“This project is aimed at redesigning critical pieces of the nacelle — wiring and some of the structural enhancements — to make it more reliable and more maintainable as we move into the future,” he said.

For the Marine Corps, the nacelle work will be done as the aircraft process through CCRAM where the old nacelles will be removed, some components will be swapped out and the newly-designed nacelles will be reattached. The Air Force will do its own nacelle improvement work at Hurlburt Field in Florida and will cut in on the production line for future V-22s for both the Air Force, Navy and Japan.

“We think it is going to have far-ranging maintainability benefits other than just upgrading the wiring and things like that,” he said.

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