Bell Boeing has formally proposed the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor for what the joint venture believes is an emerging US Army requirement for a speedy aircraft to perform the medical evacuation mission.
"We have had discussions with the army customers on what the V-22 can do," says Gene Cunningham, Bell Boeing vice-president.
The army has committed to building a vast infrastructure, including helicopters and field hospitals, which can respond to all wounded troops within about 60min, the so-called "Golden Hour" standard for medical evacuation.
Bell Boeing believes that a V-22 fitted with two or three litter stations could reach wounded troops faster over longer distances than the army's helicopters, Cunningham says. The V-22 flies faster than 260kt (480km/h), but most helicopters are limited to a top speed of 170kt.
A key point in Bell Boeing's talks with the army is to consider the V-22's impact on overall battlefield support costs, not just in terms of airframe replacement costs.
"You look at the whole infrastructure and say: 'What does [the V-22] do for me?'" Cunningham says.
"My field hospitals are not necessarily as close or as many," he adds. "How does that fit into the budgeting process? How does that fit into personnel? If you look at [V-22 costs] as a vehicle-for-vehicle replacement and don't look at the whole system analysis approach you're not going to see the benefit."
US Marine Corps officials have said that MV-22s deployed to Iraq for 18 months performed the medical evacuation mission several times. However, MV-22s deploying to Afghanistan in the fourth quarter are not included in the USMC's aircraft fleet - mainly Sikorsky CH-53Ds - dedicated to meeting the "Golden Hour" response standard.
Bell Boeing remains cautious about whether army officials will pursue the company's proposal. Says Cunningham: "I would hesitate to say they have shown interest."
But the concept is likely to be considered as all the US armed services participate in a joint planning exercise called the Quadrennial Defense Review.
"I think it's a possibility," Cunningham says.