V‑22: Osprey or Albatross?

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The V-22 Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft thattakes off and lands vertically like a helicopterbut flies like an airplane when its wing-mountedrotors are tilted to become propellers.Supporters of the V-22 argue that it has theoperational flexibility of a helicopter but istwice as fast, can carry more troops, and hasfive times the range. And unlike helicopters, theV-22 can fly to its area of deployment and doesnot have to be transported, either by ship or bycargo aircraft. Critics contend that the Ospreyis prohibitively expensive (which is whySecretary of Defense Richard Cheney tried tocancel the program in 1989) and unsafe (the V-22program has experienced four crashes, twoof which killed 23 Marines). Moreover, theyargue that existing helicopters, which the servicesare already buying, can accomplish thesame missions at considerably lower cost.

The reality is that the V-22 is only marginallymore capable than helicopters interms of speed, range, and payload butcosts four to five times as much. Anddespite more than 15 years of developmentand $12 billion spent, the Osprey is still ina test phase and nowhere near ready foroperational deployment. Instead of admittingthat the V-22 program has failed andusing the money to buy proven helicoptersfor the same missions, the Marine Corps,with considerable help from Congress, haskept the program alive--continually tryingto fix various problems. But at least oneproblem--vortex ring state (VRS)--cannever be fixed or eliminated. And "flyingaround" the VRS problem by slowing thedescent rate of the V-22 makes the Ospreymore vulnerable than helicopters (despiteclaims that it is more survivable).

In short, the V-22 Osprey is an albatrossaround the Pentagon's and taxpayers'necks. The program should be terminated.

Charles V. Peña

Charles V. Peña is senior defense policy analyst at the Cato Institute.