WASHINGTON, June 23 (Reuters) - A revolutionary tilt-rotor aircraft built by a team of Boeing Co (BA.N) and Textron Inc (TXT.N) underperformed in Iraq, may fall short in Afghanistan and the Pentagon should review whether to buy more, congressional investigators said on Tuesday.
The Marine Corps model of the V-22 Osprey “has not performed the full range of missions anticipated” in Iraq, the Government Accountability Office said in a report prepared for a congressional hearing.
Twelve of the aircraft were deployed to Iraq from October 2007 until April 2009 and the Marines want to take the Osprey to Afghanistan.
Tests have raised questions about its ability to operate in “threat environments” higher than existed during its Iraq deployment, GAO said.
The aircraft flies like a helicopter for takeoffs and landings, then swivels its rotors to gain the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft. It is designed to transport combat troops, supplies and equipment for the Marines and to support other armed services. Its development was dogged by fatal crashes, including one in 1992 that killed seven.
In Iraq, the V-22s mission capability and full mission capability rates — key measures of its suitability and effectiveness — fell significantly below required levels and significantly below rates of the helicopters it is to replace, GAO said.
Among other problems, maneuvering limits and “challenges in detecting threats” may affect air crew ability to carry out evasive actions, GAO said. It added the aircraft’s shipboard operations were hampered by its large size and repair parts inventory.
“Identified challenges could limit the ability to conduct worldwide operations in some environments and at high altitudes similar to what might be expected in Afghanistan,” the report said.
Although efforts are under way to address the shortcomings, “some are inherent in the V-22’s design,” GAO said. The Marine Corps has praised its performance in Iraq, saying the three squadrons consistently fulfilled their assigned missions.
Adding to problems outlined by GAO, V-22 costs have risen sharply above initial projections. In 1996, the plan was to build nearly 1,000 of them in 10 years at $37.7 million each. Now, the plan is for fewer than 500 at $93.4 million apiece — a procurement unit cost jump of 148 percent, GAO said.
The study recommended that Defense Secretary Robert Gates look at possible alternatives to the V-22 to meet the Marine Corps’ current and future lift needs and possibly other services’ use.
After receiving the report at a hearing, the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform called for halting V-22 production.
“It’s time to put the Osprey out of its misery,” said Chairman Edolphus, a New York Democrat. “To sum up, it has problems in hot weather, it has problems in cold weather, it has problems with sand, it has problems with high altitude and it has restricted maneuverability.
“The list of what the Osprey can’t do is longer than the list of what it can do.”
The Marine Corps did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Textron or Boeing.
In March 2008, the Navy awarded the Textron-Boeing team a five-year, $10.4 billion contract for 141 MV-22s for the Marines and 26 CV-22s for the Air Force to augment the Special Operations Command.
In a response included in the report, the Defense Department concurred with the GAO’s call for a strategy to improve system “suitability,” reduce operational costs and review future budget requests. But the Pentagon disagreed with a call for a new V-22 alternatives analysis. (Reporting by Jim Wolf; editing by Andre Grenon)