US Marine Corps aviation branch plans to invest in fighter jets, helicopters, transports and UAVs

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In a wide-ranging interview, the chief of the US Marine Corps' (USMC) aviation branch has cleared up plans on three major acquisition issues.

Lt Gen George Trautman, deputy commandant for aviation, also charted a clear course for the future of USMC aviation, even as he manages an unprecedented surge for USMC investment in new fighters, helicopters, transports and unmanned aircraft systems of all classes.

First, he says, a wave of recent news reports have confused the USMC's policy about a purported re-engining programme for the Rolls-Royce 1107C-powered Bell Boeing MV-22.

It is true that the 1107C's reliability has fallen short of original expectations, says Trautman, but a power-by-the-hour deal signed several years ago ensures that the USMC has all the engines it needs at a predetermined cost.

The real issue being debated is not re-engining, but repricing the maintenance deal with R-R, which has suffered financially due to the 1107C's reliability problems, he says.

The USMC acknowledges it needs to pay R-R a higher price to compensate for the 1107C's lower reliability levels. The USMC says it is currently seeing an "on-wing" time of around 450h for the engine.

Meanwhile, industry has also been confused about the direction of the small tactical unmanned aircraft system (STUAS)/tier II programme, a joint USMC and US Navy acquisition programme.

The USMC wants an aircraft larger than the Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle now performing the mission in Afghanistan and Iraq under a service contract, but there is a debate within the USN over whether a ScanEagle-sized aircraft would be preferred.

Trautman, however, is adamant that the USMC's position would prevail in the debate. "My money is already in the programme,"

Trautman says, adding that he is prepared to maintain the USMC's requirement even if it means the USN leaves the programme. But he hopes the situation does not come to that: "I'll have fiscal challenges if they walk and I'm hoping they don't walk."

Separately, the USMC has recently solidified plans to install a next-generation jammer on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The F-35B has joined the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as the launch platform for the jammer, which is scheduled to enter service in 2018.

The designation clarifies the USMC's replacement strategy for the Northrop Grumman EA-6B with the F-35B, while the USN continues to replace its EA-6Bs with the Boeing/Northrop EA-18G Growler.

Trautman also says the USMC remains "very interested" in potentially integrating a so-called Totally Organic Sensor System with the MV-22 a move which would provide situational awareness for mission commanders via the use of a Thales-developed ground moving target indication sensor.

Other enhancements could include the integration of electro-optical/infrared sensors, he says.