PARIS — The U.S. military over the next decade may sell as many as 100 of the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to international customers, the program manager said.
The military is already in discussions with “more than three” countries interested in buying the aircraft, which takes off like a helicopter and flies like an airplane, Marine Corps Col. Greg Masiello, who manages the V-22 program, said on June 17 during a press conference with reporters at the Paris Air Show.
“I see no reason why there wouldn’t be … 100 aircraft over top of the program of record,” he said.
Masiello was referring to quantities in addition to the U.S. military’s planned purchase of 458 Ospreys. That includes 360 for the Marine Corps, 50 for the Air Force and 48 for the Navy, he said. There are 214 currently operating in the U.S. fleet, including in countries such as Afghanistan, he said.
The Navy on June 22 awarded a joint venture of Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter and Boeing Co. a $6.5 billion contract for as many as 122 Ospreys. That includes 92 for the Marines and seven for the Air Force, with options for an additional 23 aircraft. The agreement was expected to intensify interest among foreign buyers, who would be needed to keep the production line open beyond 2018.
Based on the level of interest from other countries, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Some 15 countries are interested in buying or conducting training exercises with the aircraft, including Israel, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya, India, Singapore, Australia, Japan, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Columbia and Canada, according to a briefing at the show.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in April in Tel Aviv announced the first foreign sale of the Osprey, for the Israeli special forces. The number of aircraft wasn’t specified but it was believed to be at least five for $70 million apiece. The funding would likely come from the more than $3 billion the U.S. gives Israel annually in military assistance.
The speed and range of the V-22 puts it in a class of its own, Masiello said. It can fly more than 800 nautical miles, about the distance between Washington, D.C., and Detroit, in less than four hours, he said.
In Afghanistan in 2010, more than 30 coalition troops were trapped after their CH-47 Chinook crashed from enemy fire, Masiello said. Two Ospreys from Kandahar were dispatched to rescue the personnel, flying hundreds of miles in bad weather as high as 15,000 feet over mountaintops, he said.
“You could not do that with any other aircraft,” he said.
The Osprey doesn’t have a flawless safety record. More than 30 Marines and civilian contractors were killed in crashes during development of the aircraft. Some lawmakers and Defense Department officials sought unsuccessfully to cancel the program.
“It’s not the same aircraft” as it was then, Masiello said, when asked whether its past performance is affecting negotiations with potential buyers. The plane has been redesigned to incorporate redundant hydraulic systems and self-sealing fuel cells, he said.
The Osprey since 2010 has flown more missions, on average, at lower cost, Masiello said. The cost per flying hour in 2012 was less than $10,000, he said. The program is now at “peak production,” with the contractor set to build and deliver 40 aircraft this year, he said.
The Navy’s order for additional Ospreys is a “vote of confidence and it certainly won’t hurt” the potential for more international sales, Chris Raymond, vice president of business development and strategy for Boeing’s Defense, Space and Security unit, said in a June 16 briefing with reporters at the company’s Paris offices before the start of the air show.