Precision Tools Laboratory at Cannon AFB
The Marine Corps is accelerating a massive upgrade and overhaul of its MV-22 Osprey to upgrade sensors, add weapons, maintain the fleet, and expand the range of operations – as part of an effort to extend the aircraft’s life by 2060.
“We plan to have the MV-22B Osprey for at least the next 40 years,” Marine Corps Aviation spokeswoman Captain Sarah Burns told Warrior Maven.
While the Osprey tiltrotor aircraft first launched almost two decades ago, it saw an unprecedented increase in use, scope and pace of operation.
As a result, the Corps developers state that the aircraft largely struggled to keep up with the modernization and readiness improvements needed. That challenge has been compounded significantly by a significant increase in requests from combatant commanders for ospreys, particularly since 2007, according to Corps officials.
“The quality of curriculum, maturation and standardization for maintenance training has not kept pace with readiness requirements. The current manning level cannot meet the labor demand. The current V-22 support system cannot achieve improved and sustained aircraft readiness / availability without significant changes, ”writes the Corps in its recently published Marine Aviation Plan 2018.“ Maintenance at the depot level cannot keep up with demand. ”
With this scenario in mind, the Corps is executing key provisions of its common configuration, readiness, and modernization plan, which Burns said “is designed to achieve a common configuration and readiness for a mission rate of at least 75 percent across the fleet improve. ”
Corps officials said the idea with upgrading and maintaining Osprey was to build on the lift, speed and versatility of the aircraft’s tiltrotor technology and add more performance features to the platform in the future. This includes arming the osprey with missiles, missiles or new weapons to support its escort mission in hostile or highly threatened environments.
Other elements of the Osprey modernization include improved sensors, mapping and digital connectivity, increased speed and levitation, better cargo and payload capacity, next-generation avionics, and new survival systems to repel missiles and small arms fire.
The 2018 Marine Aviation Plan calls for the CC-RAM program to include more than 75 V-22 aircraft configurations, some of which have been identified through a now-completed Mv-22 Operational Independent Readiness Review. CC-RAM calls for improvements to the multispectral sensor, computer system, infrared suppressor technology, generators and landing gear control devices of the osprey as specified in the aeronautical plan.
As part of this long-term modernization of Osprey, the Marines are now integrating a command and control system called digital interoperability. Data links, radio links and an Iridium antenna are used to provide Marines with combat-relevant message data and C4ISR information in real time – while in flight on a mission.
In addition, the Osprey is being developed as a tanker aircraft capable of aerial refueling missions. The idea is to transport fuel and use probe technology to deliver fuel to key aircraft such as an F / A-18 or F-35C. The V-22 in-flight refueling system can also refuel other aircraft such as the CH-53E / K, AV-8B Harrier Jet, and other V-22s, according to Corps officials.
An F-18 (photo by Carlos Menendez San Juan)
“The fully functional system will be deployed in 2019. This system will be capable of refueling all MAGTF (Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force) air-refuelable aircraft with approximately 10,000 pounds of fuel per VARS-equipped V-22.” 2018 Navy Aviation Plan States.
Due to its tiltrotor configuration, the Osprey can hover in helicopter mode for close-range surveillance and vertical landings, for example to deliver forces, equipment and supplies – and at the same time switch to airplane mode and reach fixed-wing speeds. This gives the plane the ability to travel 450 nautical miles to and from a location on a single tank, Corps officials said. The Osprey can reach a top speed of 280 knots and can transport a crew of Marines or some Marines in an internally transportable vehicle.
Internally transportable vehicle can fly on the osprey. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Pfc.Alvin Pujols)
The Corps developers also emphasize that the modernization efforts of the V-22 will include new technology emerging from the fast-paced Future Vertical Lift program. This could likely include the integration of newer lightweight composites, next-generation sensors, as well as various types of weapons, C4ISR systems, and targeting technologies.
Fast iterations of artificial intelligence are likely to play a prominent role in future V-22 upgrades as well. This could include advanced algorithms that can organize and present sensor data, target information, or navigation details to Marines in flight.
While the modernization and overhaul of sustainability hold the promise of continued relevance and combat effectiveness for the Opsrey, the efforts are of course not without challenges. The Corps plan cites concerns about the ability to properly maintain the depot supply chain’s ability to maintain the platform in a timely manner, and many over the years have raised the question of how far a legacy platform can be upgraded before a new one Model is required.
Interestingly, as is the case with the Air Force B-52 and Army Chinook, a variety of upgrades have kept the platforms functional and relevant to a modern threat environment for decades. The Air Force plans to fly their Vietnam-era B-52 bomber into the 2050s, and the Army’s Chinook is set to fly for 100 years – from 1960 to 2060, according to program modernization experts and program managers.
The common thread here is that airframes themselves, while often in need of improvements and reinforcements, often remain viable if they have not been highly effective for decades. The Osprey is therefore much newer than the B-52 or Chinook by comparison, to be sure. This is a major reason Burns emphasized the “common” aspect of CC-RAM, as the idea is to lay the technical foundations so that the existing platform can quickly accommodate new technologies as they emerge. This approach, which is widespread throughout the DoD acquisition community today, aims to design systems to a set of common, non-proprietary standards in order to establish a new, more efficient paradigm for modernization.
At the same time, there is broad consensus that there are limits to how many existing platforms can be modernized before a new aircraft is needed. This is a main reason why the army is now immersed in its Future Vertical Lift program, which, among other things, is currently promoting a new generation of tiltrotor technology. Additionally, new airframe designs could in many ways be better suited to new weapons, C4ISR technologies, sensors, protection systems, and avionics. The contours and structure of a new airframe itself could also bring new properties to reduce the radar signature, as well as new mission and crew options.
In a simultaneous and related development, the Navy is working on its own CVM-22B Osprey variant, which should come onto the market in the coming years. The project has gained considerable traction since the service decided to replace the C-2 with the Osprey for the vital Carrier Onboard Delivery mission.
V-22 Osprey (Photo by D. Miller)
The Navy Osprey was designed to provide 1,150 miles of flight to the ship with extended fuel tanks. In addition to a necessary increase in range, the new aircraft will also contain a new radio device for communication over the horizon and a built-in public address system, according to the service officers.
The new Osprey, expected to be operational in the early 2020s, will serve the full range of missions currently being carried out by the C-2s. This includes VIP transports, humanitarian aid missions and regular efforts to deliver food, spare parts and equipment for seafarers on board transport companies.
The Navy Osprey variant will take on a greater number of missions than that of a C-2. Landings by helicopters or tilting port carriers do not require the same preparation effort as for a C-2 landing. No catapult is required, and of course a tilt rotor has a much wider envelope to maneuver with.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @ Warriormaven1 on Twitter.