The Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey has flown a collective 250,000 hours, much of it in combat. But only recently have engineers successfully tested forward-firing offensive and defensive weapons on the tiltrotor aircraft.

The unprecedented speed and range of the V-22 has extended the reach of Marine expeditionary units and special operations forces. But the aircraft also routinely outrun their armed escorts, the Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter.

Because the Osprey has no defensive weapons, it must either slow to allow the Cobras to catch up or perform its mission without defenses.But the aircraft's unique tiltrotor configuration disallows waist-mounted weaponry because of the risk of hitting the rotors in forward flight.

Bell Helicopter recently demonstrated firing a missile from the aircraft, a capability that has sought since the Osprey’s 2007 initial deployment.

Two launches of the Raytheon BGM-176B Griffin B missile were successfully conducted at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, in December. The industry funded effort to organically arm the Osprey “demonstrated the simplicity of integrating the Griffin B missile onto the V-22 platform”, Raytheon says. In another test, an advanced precision kill weapon systems (APKWS) rocket pod was mounted to the left forward fuselage of the aircraft.

"There were no noted impacts to aircraft control," says Bell spokesman Andy Woodward. "For avionics, this was a federated system that was able to function without modifying any aircraft software."

How much weight is added to the aircraft depends on what weapon is carried, but Bell demonstrated the ability to carry more than 300 pounds on either side of the forward fuselage, Woodward says. The weapons were aimed and fired by the pilots with additional controls and displays added to the cockpit, he says.

Bell flight test crews scored direct hits with one missile each from hover mode and during conversion mode while flying at 110kt (203km/h), Raytheon says. The missile’s off-axis launch capability will allow the aircraft to engage targets not directly in its flight path, as well.

“The forward-firing demonstration was a great success,” Vince Tobin, vice president and program manager for the Bell Boeing V-22, says in a statement. “We’ve shown the V-22 can be armed with a variety of forward-facing munitions, and can hit their targets with a high degree of reliability. Congratulations to the team who has worked from initial design to completion of this demonstration.”

Both weapon systems were controlled using the V-22's existing power management system and circuit breakers, Woodward says.

"This is the first time a forward-firing missile has been launched from the V-22," says Mike Jarrett, vice president of Raytheon's Air Warfare Systems. "It's an important aspect of the V-22's capability that integrates a simple to operate, low-cost, precision strike missile – something in which the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command has shown significant interest."

Through the end of the third quarter of 2014, at least 242 MV-22s were delivered to the Marine Corps and 44 CV-22 to Air Force Special Operations Command. The fleet recently surpassed 250,000 total flight hours, Bell says.

“This 250,000 flight hour landmark is an incredible testament to the V-22’s revolutionary design and is a tribute to the men and women of Bell Helicopter who build and support tiltrotor aircraft,” Mitch Snyder, executive vice president of military programs at Bell Helicopter, says in a prepared statement. “The Osprey is designed to allow operators to engage this revolutionary technology on a wide range of different missions. It comes in fast, executes resupply or support, and then takes off and exits quickly. The unique flight envelope helps the Marines and AFSOC do things which are not be possible with any other aircraft.”