Two US Marine Corps officers, visibly frustrated, conferred on a live microphone only moments after Rep Edolphus Towns closed a 3hr hearing on the alleged failings of the MV-22 Osprey.
"This has been a waste of time," Col Karsten Heckl, recently returned from Iraqi duty, said. That drew a sharp response from Lt Gen George Trautman: "Calm down!"
But Heckl might be excused for his outburst.
Heckl was called to Capitol Hill to defend the V-22 before a panel of mostly hostile lawmakers, but this was a battle the combat pilot never had a chance to win.
The panel was armed with a recycled -- yet never completely refuted -- list of criticisms about the V-22's potential "idiosyncracies", a blistering attack on the tiltrotor by a former Pentagon insider, and a fresh Government Accountability Office (GAO) report unveiling new details about supply chain and parts reliability problems.
The GAO report listed 12 parts that expired within one-third of their promised lifetimes, driving the V-22's cost per flying hour up to $11,000. "That to us should be a major concern," Mike Sullivan, GAO's director of acquisition and sourcing management, told the panel. "They should be further down a design growth curve than they are today."
Except for the GAO report, the hearing could have happened 10 years ago.
That was when Rex Rivolo, formerly of the Institute for Defense Analysis, discovered the US Marine Corps lied about the V-22's ability to autorotate (it can't). Rivolo has spoken out publicly about his concerns only once -- Time magazine's infamous 2007 cover story about the V-22
-- but they haven't changed. If the FAA can't certify the airworthiness of the V-22 without an autorotation capability, marines shouldn't fly in it, Rivolo told the lawmakers.
Lack of autoration means that if there is a "power interruption everyone is guaranteed to die, and that is what we have in the V-22," said Rivolo, who also happens to be a premier art collector
Both Trautman and Heckl steadfastly defended the V-22 operational performance, while acknowledging that parts reliability must improve.
After three years in Iraq, the USMC plans to deploy 12 V-22s -- armed with a new all-aspect, belly-mounted gun -- to the even harsher environment in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the $93 million MV-22 survived the first round of budget-cutting in the Pentagon earlier this year, but must hurdle the Quadrennial Defense Review next year.