A NextNavy.Com Win: CV-22s Getting Guns and Armor

by admin on May 22, 2014

ospreydownmv1Back in late December of 2013, after ground fire somewhere in South Sudan bloodied a CV-22 flight and forced an ambitious Noncombatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) to abort with four injuries, I detailed how the V-22’s Operational Maneuver From The Sea (OMFTS) origins–and resulting inability to adequately suppress ground fire and lack of armor–made the platform “not quite ready” to conduct NEOs in unsettled, urban environments. (article is here)

Well, it only took about six two months of gestation, but it seems that Special Operations Command agrees with little ‘ole NextNavy.com.

Somebody reminded me this evening that I wrote in December:

A baby gunship (and–cough–far better intelligence collection/coordination from/with the diplomats on the ground-cough.) might be a nice addition to any future CV-22-backed NEO Mission Package in a relatively insecure environment.

Well, I had forgotten that, as early as mid February 2014, the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command revealed that they were developing CV-22 Gunship concepts. From IHS Janes 360:

While the concept is still in its early stages, Col Ropella hinted that the CV-22 may be fitted with forward-firing missiles, but beyond that he did not reveal any further details. However, when asked about the possibility of high-energy weapons, such as lasers, being fitted, he said: “All things are on the table. Some engineers at NAVAIR [Naval Air Systems Command] probably have dreams about [lasers] on the V-22.”

Given the V-22’s tiltrotor configuration and nearly 12 m diameter rotorblades, forward-firing munitions could not be carried on underwing hardpoints. Instead, the aircraft would either have to employ ramp-mounted or cargo bay-stored canister munitions, similar to those carried by the USMC’s KC-130J Harvest HAWK Hercules gunship, or sponson-mounted stub-wings.

A side-firing cannon/machine gun could be fitted, but this would involve some structural re-modelling as the V-22 does not have a paratrooper door on the left-side aircraft fuselage, and the door on the right side is located forward of the rotors, which would present safety issues for the aircraft.

Those plans—or at least a variation–is moving ahead. News broke at the SOFIC Conference that SOCOM is looking to put armor and a forward-firing gun on the CV-22. Here’s Navy Times’ Paul McLeary reporting on his SOFIC brief:

After three of AFSOC’s Ospreys were shot up over Juba, South Sudan in December, resulting in the injuries of four Marines on board, the command realized that the birds needed better armor.

DiSebastian said that “we’re looking to put armor protection on those aircraft in under 140 days” and they’re about a third of the way through that.

SOCOM leadership is also working on beefing up the firepower on the aircraft, testing new forward-firing weapons that it wants to put in place by the end of this year.

If that seems like a pretty quick schedule to those who are used to the years-long process of getting things done in the Pentagon bureaucracy, Lt. Col. DiSebastian said that’s the whole point.

The gun program “is something that if we went to big Air Force or big Navy acquisitions it would have been a five-year program,” he said, but since the command is doing the research and development itself, “companies are looking to put a capability on this aircraft and shoot it by the end of this year.”

I’m going to chalk this up as a win.

But there’s something else in this story that is, I think, more important, albeit a bit boring. From Lt. Col. John DiSebastian, SOCOM’s C-130 and CV-22 program director:

“But if you’ve got a $100,000 or a $50,000 widget that can improve the sustainment, capability, or ops of the aircraft, then bring that to us.”

DiSebastian stressed that he’s looking for opportunities to do low-cost modifications on the tilt-rotor aircraft, hinting that the playing field is still pretty wide open as the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) is continuing to refine and tweak how the CV-22 is employed.

The key words there are “sustainment” and “refine and tweak”. Though nobody asks about it in the media anymore, I strongly suspect sustainment of these innovative platforms is a lot harder and more costly than the U.S. Marine Corps is really ready to publicly admit. The guns and the armor might attract eyeballs and clicks, but forward reliability is, often, what wins in the end…(isn’t the IG report on Osprey reliability classified? How about some follow-up on that old thing–even if it turns into a “lies, dammed lies and….statistics” type story, it’s worth poking every so often….)

Anyway.  We’re making progress on figuring this tiltrotor platform out. I’ll close with this–something I said last time and that I’ll say again here:

To me, the MV-22 is still proving itself. It is still a overly-specialized (almost a–cough–single-mission) logistical support platform. But once the Services come to terms that this platform is both enabled and constrained by its OMFTS developmental origins, and then decide to cough up the cash and equipment (ISR assets, fire support, maintenance etc) required for the Osprey to overcome the OMFTS limitations (and capitalize on the platform’s advantages, too), then MV-22 will continue its slow, costly march towards multi-mission success.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Blacktail December 17, 2014 at 4:39 am

The V-22 was already dangerously overweight all the way back when it’s development started. To put into perspective just how bad it is, this is why the Marines ended up buying a completely unique lightweight paint mixture for use only on the V-22, that costs $7500 a gallon;

That makes it obvious that as for the V-22, carrying troops and carrying the proposed guns and armor is an either/or proposition.

It’s also a waste of time and money to develop a Gunship-only version of the V-22, because it’s no faster than the AH-1Z Viper; the only way the V-22 can fly faster is to exceed 10000 feet in altitude, and the simple fact that both cabin pressurization and heating were omitted from the design (to say nothing of the fact that it’s de-icing systems don’t work) make this feat impossible for a V-22 to achieve in an operational capacity.


Carlton May 22, 2014 at 8:50 pm

If it were practical to add weapons to the V-22, this would have been done long ago. A belly gun was designed and is available, but no one wants it. Payload is so limited that any armor and guns are mostly impractical, and the huge prop-rotors limit most fields of fire while the delicate center of gravity causes flight problems if weight is added to the nose. It cannot fire from a hover either since it lacks pitch authority, according to General Christmas.

Several more V-22s have been retired the past two years, without reported mishaps.

Aircraft availability is so low that the Corps decommissioned two new squadrons, VMM-561 and VMM-562 and increased its total buy from 360 to 384.


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