DEF-10 CANCEL THE MARINE CORPS'S V-22 AIRCRAFT PROGRAM AND BUY CH-53E HELICOPTERS
Annual Savings Five-Year Savings from (Millions of dollars) Cumulative the 1997 Plan 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 Total Budget Authority 687 813 800 1,258 1,874 5,433 Outlays 200 440 581 696 960 2,877
NOTE: The Administration, in its 1998 budget request, has revised its plan for this system. Appendix A shows savings against the 1998 plan.
The V-22, a new plane entering production in 1997, is intended to help the Marine Corps perform its amphibious assault mission of seizing a beachhead in hostile territory and its subsequent operations ashore. V-22s will transport up to 24 marines or 10,000 pounds of their equipment, moving either from amphibious ships to the shore or from one shore base to another. The plane employs a tilt-rotor technology that enables it to take off and land vertically like a helicopter and, by tilting its rotor assemblies into a horizontal position, become a propeller-driven airplane when in forward flight. The V-22 will be able to fly faster than conventional helicopters; it will also fly longer distances without refueling than other Marine Corps helicopters and thus can "self-deploy" rather than be carried to distant theaters on planes or ships, the common mode of transport for conventional helicopters. The Marine Corps argues that analysis indicates that the V-22's increased speed and other characteristics of its design will make it less vulnerable when flying over enemy terrain.
Despite all of these advantages, the Bush Administration tried to cancel the plane, largely because of its expense. At a projected unit cost of more than $54 million (in 1997 dollars), the V-22 costs considerably more than most conventional helicopters. The V-22's flyaway cost, a price that excludes some items bought with procurement funds, averages about $42 million (also in 1997 dollars).
Notwithstanding the V-22's high cost, the Congress has continued to fund it, providing more funding than the Clinton Administration requested in 1997. The Congress allocated funds to procure five planes, one more than the Department of Defense requested. The Marine Corps plans to buy a total of 425 V-22s. Another 50 planes might eventually be bought for special operations forces, and the Navy plans to buy 48 for combat search-and-rescue missions and for logistics support of its fleet.
At present, the Marines use helicopters to transport personnel and equipment in amphibious missions. One helicopter--the CH-53E, which carries heavier loads than the V-22 and costs about half as much to procure--will continue to transport Marine equipment even after the V-22 is fielded. The Marines will continue to need some CH-53Es to meet requirements for lifting heavier equipment, but the Administration bought the last of those helicopters in 1994.
This option would cancel the V-22 and continue procurement of CH-53Es. It would buy six CH-53Es per year from 1998 through 2002, half the number bought in 1994. It would also cancel development and procurement of the V-22 special operations variant and purchase no replacement. Presumably, the Department of Defense might develop and procure a special forces aircraft at some later date. Relative to the Administration's 1997 plan, the option would save nearly $0.7 billion in budget authority in 1998 and $5.4 billion over five years. Savings from the 1998 plan would be about the same. In addition to saving money, buying CH-53Es might entail less risk than developing a V-22. Two of five V-22 prototypes have crashed, as has one of two XV-15 aircraft built to demonstrate tilt-rotor technology. The Marine Corps argues that the problems that caused those crashes have been remedied without substantial design changes. But the crashes may suggest problems with the design. If problems exist, developers may need to increase the already high costs of the plane or reduce its capability.
The Marines Corps argues that the CH-53E does not meet its requirements for the amphibious assault mission for a number of reasons. First, the slower CH-53E is less likely than the V-22 to survive in hostile environments. Even if the V-22 is purchased, CH-53Es will be needed to transport heavy items of equipment that the V-22 cannot carry. Since many of those items will be needed early in battle, CH-53s will therefore need to be part of the first assault wave. But Marine Corps doctrine dictates that the first assault wave be delivered by a more survivable aircraft than the CH-53E. Furthermore, Marine Corps personnel suggest that CH-53Es might not be able to build up sufficient forces fast enough to stop enemy troops who might arrive soon after operations begin. Smaller U.S. forces would increase the likelihood of a U.S. defeat or potentially increase the number of casualties. The problem of building up forces quickly might be at least partially overcome if each CH-53E carried more troops, but the Marine Corps argues that CH-53Es are too unwieldy and vulnerable to carry large troop loads.
Marine Corps personnel also argue that the
CH-53E, or indeed any other current helicopter, is
unacceptable because it cannot deploy overseas
without substantial assistance and risk. Many current
helicopters can make the relatively long trips over
water required to deploy in the Pacific, but they must
refuel in flight, requiring the assistance of tanker
aircraft, and their slower speed increases the chance
that pilot fatigue will result in missing a tanker
rendezvous or cause other mishaps. A final argument
in favor of buying the V-22 is that it provides
capabilities that may be particularly useful in
peacekeeping contingencies, such as the Bosnian
operation, and hence worth developing if the United
States is more likely to engage in such operations.
For example, since V-22s fly faster than conventional
helicopters, they might be better at landing personnel
and equipment in remote sites and rescuing pilots
from downed aircraft.