With its ability to offer bulk discounts to foreign militaries closing within about a year, the Bell-Boeing joint venture that makes and sells the V-22 Osprey hopes to close deals for up to 50 aircraft.
Boeing says that about a dozen prospective customers are on its radar, and it is encouraging them to sign a letter of offer and acceptance (LOA) for the tiltrotor by the third quarter of 2020. Prospective customers include Israel and possibly blue water navies that need to resupply ships on long voyages.
The US Air Force, US Marine Corps (USMC) and US Navy (USN), as well as Japan's self-defence forces, signed a $4.2 billion multi-year contract in June 2018 for 78 of the tiltrotors. The acquistion was the US government's third multi-year contract for the aircraft, and the bulk purchase came with a price reduction that the V-22 Joint Program Office (JPO) is able to pass on to foreign militaries.
“People ought to act. I feel like a TV huckster out here, trying to sell people, telling people you need to call now,” said Rick Lemaster, Boeing’s director of global sales and marketing for the V-22, at a Boeing event in mid-May. “We really are to a point where this window will forever close.”
At the top of Boeing’s pitch list appears to be Israel.
“We were very close with Israel, back in December 2014. There were some domestic issues in that country that caused the LOA-related process to stop,” says Lemaster. “As they’ve recently gone through another election, we think V-22 is still on their list of things they’d like to go acquire. We are hopeful that they will prioritise that and there’s sufficient funding to go make that happen.”
Other likely customers are navies that may want to resupply their ships without having to go back to port or leave a vital area of patrol, he says. Lemaster did not name other prospective buyers, although navies with aircraft carriers and the Lockheed Martin F-35B – the UK and Italy – could be potential targets, as the V-22 is capable of carrying a replacement Pratt & Whitney F135 engine. That is one key role the USN and USMC have for the tiltrotor.
The V-22 JPO made a similar "buy now" pitch at the Farnborough air show in 2018, but has been unable to close any additional sales. It is making the same pitch at the Paris air show.
Boeing has been surprised by the V-22’s slow sales.
“We’ve had a lot of interest – a lot of shoppers. I am not sure we’ve had much interest in the way of buyers,” says Lemaster. “I thought demand would coalesce much sooner and we would be much further along in terms of international customers, based on what I see as the ability of the aircraft to go and solve people’s problems.”