As the V-22 program seeks another five-year contract to produce 98 more V-22s, the sales pitch is spinning faster than ever. The V-22 has a poor safety record, yet Marine spokesmen repeatedly claim that the "Navy Safety Center reports ...". This is because the Marines only report V-22 Class A mishaps to Navy Safety Center if the mishap becomes public. In other cases, airborne mishaps are reported as "ground" mishaps or false damage estimates are made to remain below the Class A reporting requirement.
Some details of unreported mishaps were published by "Inside Defense" in 2006, by a Navy expert in 2009, and a follow up appeared in "Wired" last year. Congress took an interest in 2009, and after much stonewalling the Marine Corps admitted that 29 of its 105 new V-22s were not flyable. Half of those can be traced to retired test aircraft and crashes, but the Generals did not provide details on why more than a dozen other new V-22s had become permanently unflyable. Class A mishaps were never reported on V-22s that were damaged beyond repair, since no damage estimate was ever made. Some of these are stored in hangars and others designated as Ground Instruction Aircraft (GIA) to excuse their permanent grounding, like the two pictured below.
In 2006 an engine surge caused a V-22 leap 30 feet into the air with pilots at the controls. It rolled to one side and broke off a wing. The damage estimate was $16 million, but was much higher since the V-22 became a GIA. This was never reported to the Navy Safety Center as a serious accident. Here is a list of 35 Class A MV-22 mishaps. Note that five of these mishaps were with FSD or EMD test aircraft. This list does not include the five Air Force CV-22 Class A mishaps.
Serious (Class A) Mishaps of Marine Corps V-22 Aircraft
A common excuse for V-22 failures is that all new aircraft have problems. Yet the V-22 is not a new aircraft, it first flew in 1989 and the Marine Corps began receiving production aircraft in 1998. It is older than the C-17 program and plans for the final production run are in place. These new V-22s are often compared to 40-year old helicopters that should have been retired several years ago because of metal fatigue. If you owned a fleet of trucks, would you expect your newly purchased trucks to have fewer problems than your 40-year olds? Yet the V-22 has a lower readiness rate and a higher accident rate than old helicopters. This is why the Marines never deployed more than 10 V-22s to Afghanistan, favoring 40 year old CH-53D helicopters.
The recent deployment of 24 V-22s to Japan has stirred political tensions, resulting in a 228 page report (warning: large pdf file) about the impact these will have on Okinawa. They are to be based at MCAS Futenma, a small airbase located in the middle of an Okinawan city, replacing 24 CH-46E helicopters. The Okinawans have demanded Futenma's closure for decades. The Marines have been spinning a tale that V-22s are safer than helicopters and claim the V-22 has suffered only three Class A mishaps, while the list above notes 35 plus 4 by Air Force CV-22s.
Marine Generals may spin stories as to why many of those were not Class As, but they cannot explain why two dozen new $80 million V-22s have been scrapped or permanently grounded without incurring more than a million dollars in damage. In contrast, C-17s were produced at roughly the same time frame as the V-22, but only three C-17s are no longer in active service out of 223 produced, to include test aircraft.
According to V-22 consultant and retired aviation expert Rex Rivilio, the V-22 is safe, so long as it doesn't hover. The Marines could promise that V-22s wouldn't hover around its tiny Futenma airbase in the VTOL mode, performing only rolling take-offs and landings. However, operating a tiny military airbase in the middle of any city is unnecessary and therefore unsafe. New Yorkers wouldn't tolerate a foreign military airbase operating in Central Park (below), which is slightly smaller than Futenma.
Japanese leaders must provide independent analysis to American leaders so they are aware their Generals lie to them. The V-22 does not have an excellent safety record, and the Futenma airbase is not vital to anyone's national defense. To say 24 V-22s (small transports) are essential to regional stability is foolish, they aren't even weapons. A simple compromise would close MCAS Futenma and move 12 V-22s to the nearby Air Force Kadena airbase and 12 others to MCAS Iwakuni on mainland Japan.
Marine Corps Brig. Gen. James F. Amos once stated: "I think the V-22 probably is high maintenance at this point. I think -- but make sure you understand one thing. Any new airframe at this point or any new system is going to be high maintenance. And why would that be? Because first of all, there is the real lack of experience in maintaining this."
He made that statement in 2000, yet V-22 apologists still claim that high costs and low readiness is only a problem because the V-22 is new. Back in 2001, everyone thought that Brig. Gen. Amos would be forced to retire after he was caught telling lies about V-22 readiness and conspiring to hide V-22 failures from civilian leaders. The Inspector General even seized his computer. Pentagon insider Franklin "Chuck" Spinney" summarized:"The commander of the first Osprey squadron was taped ordering his maintenance crews to lie about the V-22's mission capable rates in the interests of obtaining approval for full-rate production. Last Nov. 21, Marine Brig. Gen. James Amos e-mailed a 'close hold' memo to Lt. Gen. Frederick McCorkle, stating his fear that a report of low mission capable rates of 26.7 percent for early November 'isn't going to help' in regard to the upcoming production decision. Significantly, the only non-Marines on the address list for the memo were the president of Bell Textron and a vice president of Boeing. Then, on Dec. 1, during a news conference convened expressly to explain why the V-22 was ready for full-rate production, Amos claimed that its mission capable rate for the first 13 days of November had been 73.2 percent."
General Amos was not forced to retire, but was rewarded with three more promotions and is now the top Marine - the Commandant! He continues to spin lies about the V-22's readiness, safety record, performance, and the need to keep Futenma open. The lesson learned for ambitious Marine officers is that telling lies to hide problems is not only tolerated, but rewarded. It is time for American civilian leaders to overrule their Generals for the good of the Marine Corps, the American taxpayer, and the people of Japan.
Carlton Meyer editor@G2mil.com
©2012 www.G2mil.com (mishaps updated in Oct 2014)
August 2014 Update
After reading about a June 27, 2014 V-22 mishap in Japan, I checked the Navy Safety Center website for details. Their link is dead, and I learned that one must now request such data with a FOIA request.