The AP (via DefenseTech) is reporting that the V-22 Osprey will deploying to “combat zones” within a year, but POGO is concerned that this may a clever, but misleading ploy to tout the aircraft or is just plain stupid. It could be both. Recently, the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation office only approved the Osprey for a medium threat environment (pdf), though POGO has heard that the bird is really only suitable for a low threat environment at this point.
The V-22 is prone to entering an asymmetric lift situation called the Vortex Ring State (VRS) that leads to the aircraft rolling. VRS killed a four-man aircrew and 15 Marines being transported aboard the aircraft in April 2000. Unlike most helicopters, the V-22 cannot land safely in helicopter mode without power, a procedure known as autorotation. Nor does the Osprey have a defensive gun at this time. And there has been only limited testing of the Osprey in brown-out conditions—swirling dirt, dust and debris caused by the aircrafts two large props—a problem particularly acute in the sands of Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and a lot of the places the US has fought or is likely to fight. (POGO outlined most of its concerns here.)
All of these problems equal potential catastrophe if indeed the Osprey encounters any serious opposition from ground fire. However, it remains to be seen if the V-22 will truly face the kinds of threats its supporters say it will provide great advantages against. If it does, it might be facing them prematurely to our soldiers’ peril.