Inside the Beltway, the Osprey and Reality
by Robbin Laird
I have completed nearly 5 years of interviews of the Marines who have flown and maintained the Ospreys.
My discussions with these Marines have shown how you start with a platform and expand its envelope over time.
Your testing boils down to real warriors carrying the development forward in operational environments.
Inside the Beltway is structured the other way around.
If you would read through GAO reports during the period Marines put the aircraft into combat, the relationship between what was being written Inside the Beltway and reality was huge.
And at some point, we have to ask should we acquire and use, or drag out “acquisition?”
The latter course fits the con-ops of the norm of an acquisition process which is not designed to buy something, but to have a process to MANAGE the possibility of buying something. The cost of such MANAGEMENT is equivalent to boatloads of new equipment.
The goal seems to be to shape costly non-procured systems where “testers” and “evaluators” determine a course of action.
It would be far better simply to trust those persons whose life is on the line for they are putting their lives on the line and will use the equipment in any case.
To take one data point, we can go back to 2009, a point where the Osprey was making significant leaps forward in how the Marines were operating the aircraft, and note this headline in Stars and Stripes:
CRITICAL GAO REPORT PROMPTS CALL TO SUSPEND OSPREY PRODUCTION.
In response to the new data, and performance updates provided by the Pentagon, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee called for the entire Osprey production line to be suspended.
“To sum up, it has problems in hot weather, it has problems in cold weather, it has problems with sand, it has problems with high altitude, and it has restricted maneuverability,” said Rep. Edolphus “Ed” Towns, D-NY, in a hearing with the Marine Corps’ aviation commander on Tuesday. “The list of what the Osprey can’t do is longer than the list of what it can do. It’s time to put the Osprey out of its misery.”
The latest report on the Osprey by the Government Accountability Office comes in the middle of a Pentagon effort to train and deploy more helicopters and crews for the buildup of American forces in Afghanistan.
The hearing was postponed a month after Towns and Republican ranking member Darrell Issa of California asked the Pentagon for a progress report on the combat readiness of the Osprey fleet.
The results, Towns said, were “surprising and appalling.” Only 47 of the 105 Ospreys purchased since 1988 are “combat deployable,” the Pentagon had told Congress. At one point in June, the Marine Corps found just 23 were ready for combat.
Lt. Gen. George J. Trautman III, the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for aviation, conceded much of the GAO’s contentions but defended the Osprey’s capabilities and rejected calls for the Navy to seek alternatives for the Osprey program. He said the data used to criticize its performance came from just a dozen of the most heavily used aircraft.
The general characterized the Osprey issues as unsurprising growing pains of a vehicle never before tested at such high tempos or harsh conditions. Though he admitted breakdowns have been a problem, he said the third Osprey squadron to fly in Iraq recently returned with “highly successful” results after seven months.
“This aircraft is effective and suitable. It is the future of Marine Corps assault support,” said Trautman. “The MV-22B has done exactly what we have asked it to do, and more.”
So who was right?
The GAO and Congressman Towns or Lt. General Trautman? At this point, the answer is clear.
Lesson learned: Put the platform into the hands of the warfighter and let them drive development rather than waiting until the Inside the Beltway “testers” and “evaluators” are satisfied. Which would be never.