A squadron of tiltrotors for the US Special Operations Command may enter service in Iraq far in advance of the type's planned in-service date of early fiscal year 2009.
The first deployment of Bell Boeing CV-22s may be accelerated to replace an ageing fleet of Sikorksy MH-53 Pave Lows currently used by air force special operations units for transport and search-and-rescue missions, US Air Force chief of staff Gen Michael Moseley said on 26 September.
The CV-22 could be deployed in "pre-initial operational capability" status to provide the vertical lift mission, he said, addressing the Air Force Association's annual convention in Washington DC.
The announcement comes as the US Marine Corps deploys its first squadron of MV-22s to Al Asad air base in Iraq, marking the type's first experience in combat 26 years after the acquisition programme was launched. The MV-22 achieved IOC status last year.
The air force has so far received six CV-22s, which are due to enter a six month testing phase in late October called initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E). It is not known if the air force plans to deploy the CV-22s before IOT&E is complete or immediately after.
Moseley described the plight of the MH-53 fleet, which has been waiting for the CV-22's delayed arrival in order to be replaced. An MH-53 that crashed in Iraq in mid-September was delivered to the air force in 1969, and has been traced back to having participated in the Mayaguez incident and the evacuation of the US embassy in Saigon in 1975.