Thomas Laux, a senior Navy official, has certified the V-22 Osprey for Operational Testing and Evaluation, according to Inside Defense. The decision when to begin testing will be made by Marine Corps Col. Glenn Walters, commanding officer of the V-22 squadron. Testing is expected to begin in mid-March. But how thorough will this testing be?
In May 1, 2001, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the V-22 Osprey program. At that hearing, Norman Augustine, member of the V-22 Blue Ribbon panel (which was created to investigate the April 2000 crash which claimed the lives of 19 Marines) and former head of Lockheed Martin, said this about weapons systems testing:
“… over the years the test program for defense systems has gotten to be one where it's more a case of filling out a report card, that if you don't fill in this square properly, your program will be canceled, whereas in the past, test programs focused more on what can we break; how can we break it; and can we fix it? And can we break it safely in tests? And so I think today testing is much more cautious and less exhaustive, less probing than it used to be."
The V-22 is part of a trend being pushed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to procure and test weapons systems using “spiral development.” Rumsfeld calls this “an evolutionary approach to acquisition, seeking to deliver technology as it is available, rather than waiting for entire systems to be complete.” That’s Pentagon code for sending a weapon into battle before it’s thoroughly tested. Even DoD’s own advisory group, the Defense Science Board, has said that the worst time to test a weapon is in actual combat.
Augustine argued that testing has not only been timid, but that it has been narrowly defined. As weapons systems become more complex and expensive, you would think testing would become more rigorous, instead of "less probing."
Later on in the hearing Augustine elaborated and said:
"I think that there are systemic difficulties in the acquisition process that the V-22 suffered from that are not terribly unique to the V-22. One of them does have to do with the issue of reliability and the emphasis placed on it, as well as maintainability. There was a good deal of testing done, and we should make that clear, of reliability and maintainability. We were given a good deal of data about it. I think the issue is to the extent to which that data is used at making decisions. And I think the decisions tend to focus perhaps too much on classical performance parameters -- I will use that term reluctantly, but speed, payload, range and so on -- at the expense of reliability, maintainability and safety. Those would be the principal concerns that I think I would cite."
Here's an exchange Augustine had with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) at that hearing:
AUGUSTINE: ...One does observe and, again, I don't think it's unique to this program, a trend over the years that testing is becoming a matter of: Are you permitted to continue with the program; are you permitted to go to the next phase; does the program live? Whereas, earlier in my career, the purpose of testing was to find out what was wrong and...
COLLINS: And to work out...
AUGUSTINE: ... fix it.
COLLINS: ... to work out those problems?
AUGUSTINE: You intentionally tried to break things in a safe fashion. And today, in my judgment, there's not enough of that done, and I think the V-22, as I say, didn't do anything terribly differently from what most programs do.