V-22 Sticker Shock
Poor performance, high maintenance costs, and an unsafe design are three reasons no foreign government or airline has ordered the V-22 Osprey. There are promotional stories about governments "expressing interest." Once they read past the public relations material and see details, they encounter "sticker shock" and quickly lose interest. The is because the V-22 costs twice as much as comparable aircraft, yet provides less than half their performance.
1 Unit cost excludes research, development, evaluation, and testing costs. These figures are based on DoD documents for the FY2009 budget. FY09 Procurement Programs (P-1) The V-22 program has always lied about unit cost, read V-22 Costs Soar.
2 The Navy MH-60S Knighthawk can also serve as an attack helo with miniguns and Hellfire missiles. Two decades ago, Navy secretary and former Marine infantry officer James Webb opposed the V-22, saying it was too big and too expensive to land in a combat LZ. He preferred dumping medium-lift for a "high-low" mix of H-60s and H-53s. This option is viable today, and the MH-60S price will drop if the Marines place an order. For example, the Army's Blackhawks cost just $16.3 million each in FY2009.
3 The actual unit cost for CH-47Fs in the FY2009 budget is $29.8 million each. However, most are older CH-47Ds that will be remanufactured. They reuse the airframe and some parts, saving around $7 million per aircraft. The Army did not specify the mix of remans and new-builds, so the figure in the chart is $4 million higher to approximate the cost of a new-build. The SpecOps MH-47 and USAF HH-47 variants are shipboard compatible. The CH-47F and CH-53K can carry two HMMWVs internally, whereas even an old jeep cannot fit in the V-22's small cabin.
4 This is the MV-22B "Block C" that includes all the "Block B" items left off for the 2005 OPEVAL to improve performance. Additional weight will soon be added with an airborne countermeasures system and a belly gun, that will add another 1000 lbs in empty weight as reflected in this chart. The V-22 can take-off with more fuel and payload using a long rolling landing, but so can helicopters. Since the V-22 is a helicopter replacement, its performance is best measured by what it can lift vertically, as specified in its acquisition contract. Since the V-22's lift performance is so poor, nearly all missions with payload begin with a long rolling take-off from a hard runway. This is why they insist on rolling take-offs from ships, limiting shipboard flight operations.
5The V-22 cabin is almost four feet shorter than the CH-46E, to cut empty weight. After I noted this several years ago, the V-22 program pencil whipped their website and handouts to match the CH-46E. Boeing's website still lists the true size: Length, max, ft (m) -- 20.8 (6.34); Width, max, ft (m) -- 5.7 (1.74); Height, max, ft (m) -- 5.5 (1.67). Nevertheless, contractors insist the V-22 can carry 24 combat equipped Marines, even after the GAO determined that only 15-18 Marines fit. If a belly gun is added in the hellhole, four seats will be removed for a remote crew station and crewman to aim and fire the gun.
5The C-27J is a new two-engine STOL military transport airplane that uses the same two engines as the V-22. It shows how poorly the V-22 performs as an airplane, mostly because it has small wings to save weight and huge proprotors. The C-27J has three times more wing surface that provides three times more lift. The payload listed in the chart can be carried well past 50nm, out to 500nm.
The V-22 performance listed above may shock those who have read the V-22's listed specifications, which indicate a payload capacity of 15,000 to 20,000 lbs. These were goals advertised by the program over the past three decades. These have never been demonstrated, something even the V-22's public relations officer admits, because the V-22 can lift only half as much. The 2005 OPEVAL uncovered the truth, although most of it was hidden by a Bell-Boeing mole within DOT&E who falsified the report so that it could pass.
In a performance chart, he inserted 9980 lbs under the category of external lift, even though the text says the most the V-22 demonstrated was lifting a 7200 lb HMMWV to 69nm. Apparently, Bell-Boeing reps told him a V-22 once lifted 9980 lbs for 25 minutes, so there was no need to duplicate the test, and their calculation showed this allows the V-22 to fly 10,000 lbs 50nm and return home.
This is false for several reasons. First, the V-22 simply hovered a few feet off the ground, and even Boeing says the LW155 howitzer weighed just 9320 lbs. Moving it 50nm and up to 3000 ft requires much more fuel, which is why it just hovered. (right) Second, this was performed back in 1999 with a V-22 stripped of deadweight, like crew chiefs. Third, if the V-22 could lift 10,000 lbs, they could have put 2800 lbs of sandbags in the 7200 lb HMMWV. That was the purpose of the three-month long OPEVAL, to perform an Operational Evaluation of an aircraft to demonstrate its capabilities to a military test team.
A few years ago, the V-22 team spread rumors that a V-22 had flown a LW155 externally at 200 knots to 90nm at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. This was not verified by anyone in the government, and the publicity hungry V-22 team somehow forgot to videotape or photograph this amazing event, and didn't bother to invite reporters or issue a press release. Moreover, the 2005 OPEVAL was the V-22's chance to officially impress everyone, and during these months of testing they never attempted to lift a LW155, or even a 10,000 lb block of concrete.
Nevertheless, the Bell-Boeing mole at DOT&E marked the V-22 as passing that requirement, along with several other key performance measures that it failed. That same OPEVAL chart then admits that the "Block B" destined for fleet squadrons will be heavier as it requires a ramp gun and hoist, so performance will be worse. The Corps is now adding an anti-missile countermeasures system and probably a belly gun. This will add empty weight and reduce the V-22s lift capacity and cruise speed even further. One can debate these details, but even if the V-22 could lift 10,000 lbs 50 nm, that performance is less than half what a similar size airplane like the C-27J can lift, and only a third of what the similar sized CH-53K can lift. Even the 25-year old CH-53E can lift twice as much twice as far.
Once these facts are accepted, there is no debate that the V-22 is overpriced. The unit cost for the first 120 V-22's produced was around $100 million each during the first ten years in production. It was explained this price would fall dramatically when it entered a high rate of production. That mark is reached in FY2009 as 30 will be ordered as part of a multi-year contract for 167 V-22s, so why do they cost $75.3 million each? Why does a V-22 cost as much as a KC-130J that is twice its size and has twice as many engines, the same type too? In addition, the KC-130J includes a refueling system and fewer than a dozen C-130Js are produced each year.
The FY2009 budget also includes $155 million for two Navy C-40s, the military version of the Boeing 737 passenger aircraft, modified to carry cargo pallets as well. (left) Why does a V-22 cost as much as a 737? Military commanders in Iraq would definitely prefer a dozen C-40s than V-22s, especially since the V-22 is mostly limited to shuttle missions between airbases.
Aircraft range is difficult to compare, but its safe to say that the V-22 has less range than modern helicopters its same size, which is why it is always compared to the 44-year old CH-46E. Range depends on altitude, temperature, payload, winds, and fuel reserve. In addition, helicopters and tiltrotors can take off with more fuel by flying off a hard runway after a long, rolling take-off.
Range is often "operational radius," which is how far an aircraft can fly a mission and return home. It also matters if it will land and take-off before returning home, and if it flies higher to avoid ground fire. All these factors leave much room for contractors to pencil-whip an aircraft's listed range. As a result, the chart above compares the max payload aircraft can carry to 50nm and then fly home, which is a typical helicopter mission and was used by the Marine Corps to measure the performance of the V-22..
One of the V-22's false selling points is that it has the range of turboprop aircraft. This assumption fools most aviation experts who fail to understand that tiltrotors have less than one-third the range of airplanes because of their small, fat wings and "proprotors," as explained here: Why Tiltrotors Fail As a result, the program lists the V-22's range as 2100 nm, even though its operational radius is limited to around 350 nm, less than modern helicopters.
While specs listed by V-22 salesmen usually include a footnote "with one refueling," this does not justify the deception since this is "ferry range" and not operational radius. This leads some to think it can fly 1050nm missions without refueling. This is only possible if it carries no payload in order to embark a huge (2436 gallon) auxiliary fuel tank system in its cargo bay to double its fuel capacity. This extra weight means that it must take-off from a paved runway with a long rolling take-off at a max gross weight of 60,500 lbs. In 19 years of testing, it has never managed to take off above 54,500 lbs. Then it must fly up to its most efficient cruise altitude of 18,000 feet for eight hours where the cockpit temperature falls well below freezing, so aircrew must wear artic gear and oxygen masks, something considered unsafe by current regulations. As a result, the V-22 has never demonstrated a 2100nm flight with one aerial refueling.
Deceptive presentations have shown a huge increase the V-22 provides in combat radius, without noting it must embark an internal fuel system to reach such ranges. This is overlaid with helicopter ranges, without internal auxiliary tanks that can double their range as well.
Air Force Generals spun out range charts to show how far a CV-22 could deploy a four-man SpecOps team, without noting it would include two of the three auxiliary fuel tanks, include extra oxygen tanks, while the SpecOps team would have to don artic gear and oxygen masks while their canteens and electronic gear froze at 18,000 feet.
Presentations that require moving troops without internal fuel tanks are deceptive too, as they assume long, rolling take-offs, use figures for the older and lighter "Block A" aircraft, and favorable weather. They often assume the V-22 will cruise at an efficient 18,000 feet, without turning on the deicers that use 5% of engine power. Moreover, they ignore the fact that the V-22's cabin is not fully heated nor pressurized (to cut empty weight), so flying above 10,000 feet is very unhealthful and chilling for its passengers. Despite the hype that V-22s can fly above the range of medium-range anti-aircraft threats, those in Iraq with passengers cruise at 8,000 feet, just like helicopters can.
In 2005, I noticed that even the respected "Aviation Week" listed the V-22's range as 2100nm in its annual directory, with no footnote explaining this required internal auxiliary tanks, one aerial refueling, and had never been demonstrated. I e-mailed the editor who took an interest, and one his people replied that 2100nm was justified since it could aerial refuel. I responded that such logic means they should list its range as "unlimited" as well as all helicopters capable of aerial refueling. I wrote that if readers were provided a true comparison, they could see that the V-22 had less range than helicopters listed in that same chart. He agreed and promised that future editions would compare "apples to apples." This never occurred as subsequent issues carried the same false information. I'm sure editors imagined the reaction from their major advertisers if they published a chart showing the V-22 having less range than helicopters.
A couple years ago, I e-mailed the editor of an industry rag "Rotorhead" that routinely prints corporate press releases as news reports. I told them that every article on the V-22 stated that it has three times the range of helicopters, something that was untrue. They asked for an example, so I sent them links to Boeing's website that showed the CH-47E had more range and payload than the V-22. They responded that they consider the V-22 to be an outstanding aircraft, which is their opinion of any aircraft advertised in their "news" magazine. A few days later, I notice that Boeing had changed range specs on its website for the H-47s series to the ancient A model. Even today, its news articles and websites never list the range of its newest CH-47F. Since then, the USAF chose the similar HH-47 for its new search and rescue helicopter rather than the V-22, because it provides double the payload and greater range at half the price.
Rare and Expensive Spare Parts
The V-22's basic design was finalized in the early 1980s, it first flew in 1989, and has been in production since 1999. It is a "new" aging aircraft design. Retired Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, former director of the Pentagon’s Office of Force Transformation, said in a July 31, 2003 statement to Marine Corps Times:
“When you consider how old that program is, decisions were being made when John Lehman was secretary of the Navy in the first Reagan administration. Think of all the technologies that have happened since that program was begun. Much of that design we would never do today if we had to do it all over again. So why would you want to populate the entire force with that?”
This has driven V-22 costs higher as major upgrades were required to the original design even before it was delivered to the operating forces. The V-22 is so old that by 2006, 400 of its 53,000 spare parts were no longer manufactured. A task force called the "V-22 Obsolescence Management Team" was formed and published a report on this aging aircraft, a year before it entered operational service.
This is common problem for aging aircraft, but solutions are readily found when thousands are in service around the globe. Successful aircraft like the F-15, F-16, FA-18, C-130, H-1, H-60, and H-47 are operated by dozens of nations around the globe. The demand for spare parts is so high that efficient, continuous production is possible. In many cases, multiple manufactures ensure cost and quality competition.
Producing a limited number of unique, complex aircraft means that maintenance costs become many times more expensive. This is less a problem when the aircraft is in production since that results in steady parts demand. Parts shortages may slow the production line, as has happened with the V-22, but the fleet is rarely grounded. However, once production ceases the user must purchase several years of most spare parts in advance and store them somewhere while production ceases. As this parts supply dwindles, a contract is let for a short production run to produce a few more years of parts. These haphazard production runs are extremely costly as a company must tool and train personnel for these short runs, and quality control is a huge issue. This must be done for thousands of unique parts, so the aircraft management team operates in a continual crisis mode dealing with part shortages or parts that fail prematurely, do not function properly, or simply do not fit properly.
This became a huge problem with the F-14 program, since that aircraft was only used by the U.S. Navy and had no foreign sales, except 80 to Iran. While it was a capable aircraft, only 712 were built, so after manufacturing ended, parts demand was not sufficient to maintain the continuous production of thousands of unique spare parts. Maintenance costs became so prohibitive that the Navy retired them a decade early. Spare parts costs and management headaches forced the USAF to recently retire its F-117s after just two decades since only 40 were in service. Even if 400 V-22 are built, they will costs several times more to maintain every year while readiness rates are affected by continual shortages of varied parts.
Most American corporations struggled to earn a profit over the past five years, as evidenced by the S&P 500 performance. An exception are American defense contractors who enjoyed record profits from generous government contracts. Bell-Textron (TXT) and Boeing (BA) frequently cite the V-22 program as a major contributor to their high profit margin.
Congress must demand justification for these massive profits as the nation faces a fiscal crisis. Why does the V-22 costs twice as much as similar sized helicopters and airplanes? Why does it cost as much as a KC-130J or 737? Moreover, why does the Marine Corps continue to buy the V-22 after it demonstrated less than half its advertised performance in payload and range? Finally, why doesn't the Marine Corps buy other aircraft that are in production, safer, cost half as much, yet provide twice the performance?
Carlton Meyer editorG2mil@Gmail.com