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V-22 Osprey Aircraft’s Reliability Improves in Pentagon Testing

The Marine Corps V-22 Osprey’s safety, combat effectiveness and reliability have improved in the past year, according to the Pentagon’s test office.

New aircraft software evaluated in tests from August through early November “performed largely as expected,” the test office found. The improvement gives Osprey pilots greater capability to track, monitor and communicate from their cockpit with U.S. ground forces and to avoid bad weather.

“Software enhancements were modest but provided new piloting options and power margins” during flying operations, “increasing safety and reducing pilot workload,” Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation said in a report released today.

The report is good news for makers of the $53 billion V-22 Osprey, the Pentagon’s sixth-largest acquisition program. The Navy plans to spend $8 billion this year to buy an additional 122 V-22s, made by Providence, Rhode Island-based Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter unit and Chicago-based Boeing Co.

The V-22 is a fixed-wing plane with rotors that tilt so it can take off and land like a helicopter.

The $8 billion in proposed V-22 spending, in the early discussion stages, would supply aircraft to the Marine Corps and Air Force through 2017, renewing for five more years a current deal calling for 174 aircraft.

Signing a multi-year contract would almost guarantee those aircraft couldn’t be canceled because the military would face steep termination costs.

The additional purchases would complete the Marine Corps and Air Force plans to field 410 V-22s. The Navy has said it might purchase 48 separately after 2018.

Development Recommendation

“Across the fleet, the V-22 generally meets reliability and maintainability requirements,” Gilmore wrote. Still, the V-22 in its most recent testing was available only 53 percent of the time it was required, rather than the specification of 82 percent, according to Gilmore.

The Navy should continue “development and testing to improve overall reliability and availability,” he wrote.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in a Jan. 6 interview with Bloomberg Television that the Osprey is a defense program “that’s going to take a very careful inspection.”

Each Osprey costs about $65 million in basic “flyaway” assembly costs. A more complete measure is a current-year program unit cost of about $116.2 million apiece that includes past expenditures for research and development, according to program office data.

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