Israel has revived discussions with the US government over a potential acquisition of Bell Boeing V-22 Ospreys as the programme looks abroad to fill vacant production capacity.
The Israeli government last year froze a plan to buy six V-22s, three years after the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of a potential sale of the tiltrotor aircraft to Tel Aviv.
But the freeze was apparently short-lived, as Israeli officials re-opened discussions with US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) late last year.
“Over the last six months we’ve had some increasing discussions and interest from Israel,” says Col Matthew Kelly, manager of the V-22 joint programme office. “There’s nothing imminent. But we’re pleased that Israel is considering the V-22 again.”
MV-22s operating from the USS Iwo Jima also participated in Israel’s Kia Green exercise in mid-March, giving more Israeli officials an opportunity to evaluate the tilrotor’s capabilities, Kelly says.
Meanwhile, CV-22s operated by the US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) have been used heavily in combat operations in neighbouring Syria, Kelly says, although he offers no details.
According to NAVAIR officials, any sale of V-22s would be part of a package with heavy-lift helicopters: Israel is evaluating the Sikorsky CH-53K and the Boeing CH-47F Chinook to replace its fleet of aged CH-53 Yasurs.
NAVAIR plans to finalise the third multi-year production contract for V-22s by June or July, Kelly says. The next five-year production plan calls for introducing CMV-22s with the US Navy, and delivering 17 V-22s ordered by Japan, along with additional shipments to the USMC and AFSOC.
But the five-year production plan falls short of the Bell-Boeing joint venture’s production capacity. The third multi-year contract, when finalised, allows for about 10 additional deliveries to foreign buyers each year over the five-year period, Kelly says.
In addition to Israel, NAVAIR is targeting several European countries, including Italy, Norway, Spain and the UK.