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PARIS: Boeing hopeful of third V-22 navy deal

Boeing is executing its second multiyear contract for the V-22 Osprey and hopes the US Navy will award the third multiyear contract by the end of 2017, according to Boeing’s director of tilt-rotor business development.

The third multiyear contract would buy the programme of record for the navy, Rick Lemaster told reporters in May. The navy’s current procurement objective is 461 Ospreys, including 360 MV-22 US Marine Corps aircraft, 48 US Navy aircraft and 53 CV-22 aircraft for US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget includes provisions for a multiyear procurement beginning in FY 2018 through FY 2024. The air force’s programme record was 50 aircraft, but had two added for combat loss replacements and another added from an FY17 appropriation.

Out of the 461 aircraft in the navy’s full programme of record, Boeing has delivered about 300. The airframer expects to sign the third multiyear contract in December.

Although AFSOC officials had examined purchasing more CV-22s as combat loss replacements while the Osprey production line is still hot, the FY18 budget did not procure any additional aircraft for special operations command. For now, 51 CV-22s are scheduled to be delivered to AFSOC by the end of 2019, including one Osprey purchased with an FY16 Congressional add. At this time, the USAF has bought its programme of record and additional aircraft would be priced options on the multiyear buy, Lemaster says.

MINIMISING THREAT

In 2016, the US Navy decided to purchase V-22s for carrier onboard delivery (COD) logistics resupply missions. The plan essentially phases out the C-2 Greyhound, which executes the COD mission of resupplying a carrier battle group today. The V-22 will be able to hop from a logistics hub to the carrier strike group to an amphibious-ready group for the USMC, Lemaster says. He argues the Osprey’s vertical lift capability also makes the aircraft more survivable during deliveries.

“So what that means to a commander is he doesn’t have to bring his ships in close proximity to the carrier itself to be able to get resupply and move back out,” he says. “He can stay away and minimise his threat.”

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Even as Boeing and its partner, Sikorsky, pursue the larger Future Vertical Lift programme with the SB-1 Defiant, updating the V-22 remains a priority for Boeing. The USMC plans to fly the V-22 until at least 2040 and still has near-term readiness needs that Boeing plans to address with incremental improvements.

For its COD replacement missions, the US Navy wants to be able to fly at least 1150nm (2,130km) without refuelling. Boeing will add fuel tanks to the MV-22’s wings, as well as a beyond-line-of-sight radio. There are plans to refuel the MV-22 with the KC-46, but the aircraft has not been qualified yet, Lemaster says.

Boeing is also developing a new capability for the USMC called the V-22 aerial refuelling system (VARS). Bell-Boeing has already used internal research and development funding for a recent test that put a hose-and-drogue assembly on the aircraft. Boeing brought an F/A-18 to a pre-contact position and the basket was able to be plugged, Lemaster says.

“This is a technology that is mature and we can press on with developing for the [US] Marine Corps,” he says. “Because a V-22 can slow down and provide that refuelling capability and that gives the marine corps a lot more capability.”

Boeing is now on contract to develop the capability that would allow the V-22 to act as a tanker and offload fuel to fighter aircraft, such as the F/A-18 and Lockheed Martin F-35, as well as other V-22s and helicopters. The Osprey could serve as a handy way to top off the F-35B, which uses a significant amount of fuel for its vertical take-off, Lemaster says. The V-22 could sit aloft and refuel the Joint Strike Fighter before it goes off to complete its mission, he adds.

ATTRACTIVE BENEFITS

Boeing, the US Navy and Marine Corps are also discussing the ability to resupply the F-35’s roughly 10,000lb power module.

“Right now, that’s a difficult thing to be able to resupply while ships are underway,” he says. “You either have to have ships with a highline capability to hold that 10,000lb and transfer that across the cable and down to the ship, which [currently] requires modifications to be made to both ships, the receiver and supply ship going out to deliver them, or you’d have to put it in an aircraft able to carry that and land.”

Boeing, along with the F-35’s engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, are testing the V-22 resupply capability with the USMC. Since the V-22 does not require traps and catapults to land on carrier, the aircraft does not face the possibility of increased shock loads the engine would experience with a high gross weight, Lemaster says.

“We think that provides benefit to the navy and marine corps but also other operators of the F-35B,” he says. “Other countries buying that airplane, we think they would find this attractive as well.”

Down the line, Boeing is also examining an anti-submarine warfare capability for the Osprey, Lemaster says. If the navy had the ability to deploy sonobuoys and receive the signal, the V-22 could provide a greater range than helicopters on board today and could get away from the limitation of a ground asset, he says. Boeing has also discussed adding surveillance radar, which would give V-22 pilots the ability to see both a maritime radar picture and an airborne picture.

“Then we’re talking with other customers at the marine corps about a series of tiered upgrades to begin to roll in improvements to address readiness that the marine corps has said is one of their top priorities as well as avionics upgrades downstream,” he says. “As we finish out the programme of record, we think there’s opportunity to work these upgrades.”

Boeing is also examining a twisting blade for the V-22 with independent research and development (IRAD) dollars. Today, the V-22’s blade is a compromise between a shape that’s most efficient and one that’s most efficient as a turboprop, Lemaster says. Boeing does not have blades in production that could allow the operator to change their shape based on how they are actually being used. Based on development though, Lemaster would not be surprised to see that kind of capability downstream.

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