The US Marine Corps expects to declare initial operational capability for the Bell Boeing V-22 Aerial Refuelling System (VARS) in late 2019, with the milestone to represent the availability of an initial four mission-equipped aircraft.

VARS will be qualified with the USMC’s Boeing AV-8B, F/A-18 and Lockheed Martin F-35B strike aircraft and Sikorsky CH-53 fleets, although a testing timeline has yet to be worked out, says Lt Col Douglas Ogden, MV-22 military platform lead at the V-22 joint progamme office. The service had originally hoped to have the in-flight refuelling system ready to support initial operations with the F-35B, but a contract award was delayed until October 2016.

Cobham Mission Systems will begin delivering production VARS sets during 2018, with the equipment based on its existing FR300 hose-drum unit. Proximity trials performed with F/A-18s in 2013 and 2015 identified no issues with the fighters flying close behind the tiltrotor, Ogden told the IQ Defence International Helicopter Conference in London on 1 February.

Meanwhile, Ogden says the V-22 programme office is looking at the feasibility of adding a chin-mounted gun and crew-served door guns for the Osprey, with the USMC particularly interested in the latter.

“We are looking into these things, but there is no concrete plan for delivery of anything right now,” he notes.