The Bell/Boeing V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft is expected to be cleared for low-rate initial production before the end of April, but a production increase is dependent on US Congress decisions.

Backers of the Osprey military tilt-rotor were disappointed late in 1996, when the US Government rejected a proposal for multi-year contracting and a production rate increase which they claim could have saved the Pentagon $9 billion over the life of the project.

They now hope that Congressional V-22 supporters, including Curt Weldon, chairman of the House National Security research-and-development subcommittee, will accelerate the Osprey production rate. He says that the V-22 is "a victim" of the Clinton Administration "-which has so many big-ticket items, but no money to pay for them". Weldon says: "We've got to look at perhaps cancelling some programmes." He includes the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor, McDonnell Douglas F-18E/F and the Joint Strike Fighter in the list.

"We will have to do something Draconian. That means cut some weapons systems," he concludes. Meanwhile, Weldon speaks of a "-broad, bipartisan coalition attempting to find additional money to speed up V-22 acquisition".

Carl Mundy, a former commandant of the US Marine Corps, says that the current planned maximum annual production rate of 24 aircraft is inadequate. He says "-there is room to move" within the US Navy's aviation budget to build 36 V-22s a year. US Marine Corps Brig Gen Michael Hough, who manages USN expeditionary-force programmes, calls the snail's pace of the V-22 programme "a moral tragedy".

The joint venture will deliver 425 MV-22Bs to the USMC, 48 HV-22Bs to the USN and 50 CV-22Bs to the US Air Force over the next 25 years. The same number of aircraft could be fielded within 14 years if multi-year funding of 36 aircraft a year were approved, say Bell Boeing executives.

Source: Flight International