Pentagon Regular Briefing
DoD News Briefing
Thursday, November 30, 2000 - 1:52 p.m. EST
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
(Also participating was Marine Corps Brig. Gen. James F. Amos, deputy
assistant commandant for Marine Corps Aviation)
Q: Ken, regarding a somewhat critical Coyle report on the MV- 22, does
the SECDEF believe that the tilt rotor plane is ready for full-scale
production and use by the Marine Corps in any situation?
Bacon: Well, first of all, the Coyle report believes that the MV-22 is
ready for production. And it says that. So I don't believe the
secretary has been briefed on the Coyle report. I know that Mr. Coyle
himself has not briefed him. I do also know that the commandant has
kept the secretary fully informed about progress on the V-22 Osprey.
As you recall, several years ago the secretary went down and saw the
Osprey when it landed here next to the Pentagon and went aboard the
Osprey with the commandant and some member of Congress. It's a program
in which he's been very interested. And he shares the commandant's
view that this is an exciting and important new development in Marine
aviation and a very worthy successor to the CH- 46 helicopter.
Q: I've got another one on a different subject.
Q: Does anyone want --
Q: Yeah, just to follow up on the V-22. The Coyle report said that it
found that it was - that the MV-22 as tested was, quote, "not
operationally suitable because of reliability, maintainability,
availability, human factors, and interoperability issues." That
doesn't sound like a good thing. Can you explain why it's considered
to be operationally effective but not operationally suitable?
What are they talking about? Is this a maintenance - is there a
problem with the plane? Was there a maintenance problem or what --
what are we talking about here?
Bacon: Well, first I have Brigadier General Amos from the Marine Corps
here who will answer specific questions. But let me just say, based on
my cursory review of the two-inch thick report - I know you've
probably read it all, but I haven't - and a brief conversation with
Mr. Coyle and a conversation with the commandant, General Jones, about
this, my assessment of this is as follows: that the development of a
new airplane is an evolutionary process. You never reach a point where
you've achieved perfection with the plane. You are always looking for
ways to improve its performance, its maintainability, its reliability,
and its safety. And that with any piece of technology, particularly a
dramatically new departure from past technology and its introduction
into the force, there's a learning curve. And that that learning curve
continues throughout the life of the airplane.
I think that that's what's happened here. The Marines have already
made a number of improvements. I think they've made over a hundred
improvements - nearly a 120 improvements in the plane since they
first started producing it. Those improvements will continue. The new
improvements will be made on top of the 120-odd improvements that have
been made already.
As Marines who maintain the planes learn more about maintaining them,
the maintenance will get better. And one of the reasons that we have
Phil Coyle at the Pentagon - one of the reasons that we have an
independent Office of Test and Evaluation is in order to give the
services guidance and direction for how to make their equipment better
and to make it more reliable and more effective in combat. And I think
that the Marines will take the Coyle report and use it as a guidebook
for making improvements in the Osprey.
Now, that's a general - a very general description. I can go into
some very specific changes that the Marines have already made, but I
think I will leave that to Brigadier General Amos to do that right
now. And then, if you have more general policy questions, I'll come
Q: A general policy DoD question. The report, which I read several
times - two inches - leaves the impression that the O&S [operation
and support] costs for this thing in the out years, the years beyond
after you and the other Marines leave, is going to be pretty high,
more of a burden than the Marines anticipate now. This building, for
the last seven or eight years, has talked about how weapons programs
must be both effective and cost effective in the out years to be
purchased or to be approved. This report raises reasonable doubt that
this airplane has O&S costs that may be astronomical right now that
the Marines won't be able to pay.
Can you address, I mean, the dichotomy here? OSD says one thing. This
report applies quite another.
Bacon: Well, I know what the report says, and I know the report makes
comparisons between the V-22 and the CH-46 helicopter. To a certain
extent, these comparisons overlook, I think, one central fact, which
is the CH-46 helicopters cannot remain flying forever and they have to
be replaced by something. As the report points out, the V-22 Osprey
brings considerably greater combat capability to the Marine Corps than
it's currently getting from the CH-46 helicopters, which have been in
the force since 1964, I believe.
So they have to replace the helicopters with something. They've chosen
a new technology. The report points out that the new technology does
bring additional combat capability, and in some respects, in terms of
combat survivability, it even exceeds the standards that were
initially set for the V-22.
In terms of the cost of making the plane operate, the cost of keeping
the plane operating, it does conclude that they could be lower. And
the Marines are confident that the costs will be lower, and that they
will get lower as they begin to get this into the force and they begin
working on the plane. And as they make more changes in the plane, as
they've made already - they've made - one of the fundamental changes
they've made is fixing difficulties they had in folding and stowing
That's a change they've made already. They've made another change in
the instruction manuals for educating people in how to maintain the
plane. They've made another fundamental change in fasteners - sounds
simple, but it was a problem the plane was having attaching cables and
other things to the composite material. They've improved that
dramatically. As I said, they've made nearly 120 improvements already.
They will continue to make more improvements.
The question to be asked is whether the improvements will change this
trajectory. The Marines are confident that it will. And I suppose the
only way we're going to know this is to come back in a year or two or
three, and look at the cost of maintaining the plane, of keeping it
operational, and finding out if they have made the type of progress
that they think they can make.
But let me have General Amos come up and discuss some of the specifics
Amos: Maybe I can shed a little bit of light on things from a couple
of different perspectives, both the operational and maybe the
The first thing I'd like to say is, you've got to remember that there
were two test and evaluation organizations that looked at this
airplane as it went through both operational evaluation and came out
the other end, with the appropriate report. The first was OPTEVFOR,
Operational Test and Evaluation Force, based out of Norfolk, which did
an independent - they work for the chief of Naval Operations, but
they did an independent analysis of this, of the airplane, and
actually conducted the operational evaluation all the way till July
the 15th. So they are manned by fleet experienced test pilots and
maintenance personnel and people that come from the fleet and
understand the development of aircraft. And they came on board and
said the operational - the airplane is operationally suitable. That
was their finding.
And how did they do that? They flew the airplane, they worked with it.
They're the ones that came up with the exact same numbers that Mr.
Coyle's office used to develop his Beyond LRIP [low rate initial
production] report. That's where he got his numbers.
But they, being operators and understanding how an airplane develops
and matures from both a mechanical perspective, a supply support
perspective, and an employment perspective, they understand where the
airplane's going in the future. And they're very confident, and thus
they said the airplane was operationally suitable.
Mr. Coyle's office, representing the civilian side of the evaluation,
said that the airplane is operationally effective and there's no
question about it. It flew farther than it was supposed to. It lifted
more than it was supposed to.
It is a very, very capable airplane.
He took the Marine Corps to task on the issue of maintainability and
reliability, and frankly, we're pleased that he did because when that
airplane went through the operational evaluation, the early part, you
should know that it entered OPEVAL [operational evaluation] with one
airframe; the first production airplane. And then as the OPEVAL
continued, we brought in three more airplanes.
So, during that period of time, let's just take a glimpse - you know,
a glimpse of the very first part of the operational evaluation - if
that airplane broke for any reason, there was no other airplane. I
mean, there was nothing else to continue the operational evaluation
So as we went into this with a frankly, a less-than-mature supply
support system, and we didn't have it, there was not a robust supply
locker resident at New River and Patuxent River when we went through
the operational evaluation. So we didn't try to preload this thing. So
the airplane went through with a less-than-mature supply support
system, and it began to show. And we had problems with some new
Mr. Bacon talked about the fasteners. The airplane is predominantly
carbon fiber. There are a variety of things - cables, wires, wire
bundles - just like an airliner that you'd fly in commercially --
that have to be fastened in the airplane. This is very simplistic. But
how do you take a fastener that's going to hold a wire bundle that
weighs a hundred pounds and fasten it to a fiber - a carbon fiber
airframe that can withstand the vibrations and all the other things
that you can imagine in a military airplane? It's done by glue. Well,
there is a variety of different kinds of glue and we found out the
hard way, as we began to look at fasteners on this airplane, what was
wrong with the way we had the fasteners and the glue being applied.
That was a significant maintainability and reliability issue as we
went through operational evaluation. We have corrected that problem
right now. Mr. Bacon talked about 118 fixes that the program manager
has already put in the airframe to fix issues that came up during the
I don't think it's unrealistic to think that an airframe that's
entering it's service - and by the way, we have nine airplanes now;
our first nine airplanes at New River and VMMT-204, which is our
training squadron - we've only got nine. And of those nine, the first
four that entered the squadron were the ones who went through
It's not unrealistic to think that you're going to have developmental
changes to the airframe. The blade-fold wing-stow mechanism, which
allows the blades to collapse into one unit and then causes the entire
wing to turn 90 degrees so that we can fit this thing aboard a ship,
just like the wings fold on an F-18 or an F-14, it's not unrealistic
to think that they're going to have problems in something that is
mechanically as tightly engineered as that is.
That's been fixed. Mr. Coyle himself flew out to the ship, at the very
beginning of November, and witnessed that, and actually flew on an
Osprey and then gave it a thumbs up.
So those are issues on maintainability and reliability mechanically
for the airframe that needed to be fixed, and they have been fixed.
Now, have they all been fixed? I mean, are there other things that are
out there? Sure there are. And again, it's not unrealistic to think
that we're not going to mature the system. The program manager is
dedicated to fixing all those things. Folks, it takes money, and we're
working diligently on it right now to repair the airplane, or get the
repair pieces of that airplane up so it's maintainable and reliable.
Let me throw a figure out to you. Those nine airplanes that I talked
about out in 204 down in New River, I pulled - as I was walking down
here, I pulled the first 13 days of November, mission-capable rate on
those airplanes, and the average is 73.2 percent for the first 13 days
in November of those nine airplanes. So when we start talking about is
the airplane, even since OPEVAL, improving and getting better, the
answer is it is absolutely a resounding yes.
Q: A couple of questions. What was the mission-capable rate prior to
this, so that we have some level of comparison. And how long - could
you explain to us the difference between operationally suitable and
Q: And how long will it take until you are operationally suitable?
Amos: Okay. Let me go to your first question. If you didn't hear it,
it was what was the mission-capable rate, and I assuming we'll talk
about operation evaluation, since that's the criteria we're using, and
that's the number of airplanes that are up. An airplane - it was 57
percent mission capable during operation evaluation for that period of
time that the airplane was examined. Now, that's lower than we want,
but that's not lower than it is right now, and that's not lower than
it's going to go in the future. But that gives you a frame of
reference: 57 percent when it came through operation evaluation; it's
73 percent as of midway through November.
The second question was --
Q: The second question. What's the definitional difference between
suitability and --
Amos: Okay, the operational suitability and operational effectiveness.
Effectiveness measures the airplane's ability to perform the specific
missions and taskings that it was designed to do. For instance, it has
to be able to lift greater than 10,000 pounds. It has to be able to
fly unrefueled a specific distance. It has to be able to hover out of
ground effect with a certain weight. Those are all the key performance
parameters that we look at operationally. When the operational
requirements document was signed on this airplane, those are all the
thing that we looked at and said, okay, we want this airplane to do
this out in the year 2020 and 2010 and 2015. And it was operationally
effective and more than met all those.
Operationally suitable takes into account all the other things,
maintainability, reliability. How is the airplane performing from the
maintainability side of the house? Is it suitable? And it turns out to
be kind of a net cost for the airplane. They don't attach a dollar
amount, but it's what's the labor that's going to be required to keep
this airplane flying.
Q: And is the V-22 high maintenance at this point?
Amos: Oh, I think the V-22 probably is high maintenance at this point.
I think - but make sure you understand one thing. Any new airframe at
this point or any new system is going to be high maintenance. And why
would that be? Because first of all, there is the real lack of
experience in maintaining this. That airframe - those Marines that
worked on those MV-22s when we went through operational evaluation saw
it for the very first time. We didn't have MV-22s out there. They
didn't have the capability - you know, it continues to be referred or
balanced against the CH-46. The CH-46 has been flying for 32 years. Do
you think we've got experience on maintaining the CH-46? We sure do.
We know exactly what is required. So, yeah, it's --
Q: Will the V-22 always be high maintenance because it's --
Amos: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. And I guess that's probably
where I have the rub with the implications of the Beyond LRIP report.
You get the impression - it's implied that this is high maintenance
and it's going to continue to be that way. And I think that's
absolutely unrealistic. It will improve, as it's already improved
markedly, from 57 percent mission capable, which means high
maintenance, to 73 percent, just for the first 13 days of this month.
That means less than high maintenance.
Q: I'm sorry, sir. With that remarkable increase, did the Marine Corps
go to any extraordinary measures? There have been times in the
military's history when it's trying to prove a plane - the B-1
springs to mind, where the Air Force has focused all of this efforts
on boosting the RM&A on that. Did you do that with the V-22, or is
this just a natural improvement?
Amos: No, I think this is a natural improvement being done by the
program office - absolutely. Everything we're doing right now is --
and it needs to be done. You know, let me assure you of one thing: the
Marine Corps wants the airplane to be low maintenance and high
reliability, and we're driving the program office to make that happen.
Q: The report also focuses on another possible - potential problem
with the V-22, and that is the susceptibility to vortex ring state,
which was cited as a casual factor in the accident. Is there any
indication that this aircraft is more susceptible to that aerodynamic
phenomenon than any - because of its unique technology? Is there a
concern about whether this is less forgiving when it comes to that
kind of a stall, because of the conditions under which it is flown?
Amos: No, there's absolutely - there is no concern that the airplane
is more unforgiving in that environment. Every helicopter has the
potential to experience that. I just flew the CH- 46 last week, and in
the briefing we talked about power settling, vortex ring state in the
CH-46. So no, it's not any more susceptible. I will tell you that
Lieutenant General McCorkle, who I think everybody in this room knows,
who is a deputy commandant for Marine Aviation, has required NAVAIR
[Naval Air Systems Command] to put a warning device in the cockpit
that warns the pilot that he's approaching a regime that could be
potentially - where he could be potentially susceptible to a vortex
ring state. But it's a phenomena for all helicopters.
Q: Have you adjusted the parameters or the limits under which the
plane is supposed to be flown in order to lessen the chance of that
Amos: The Beyond LRIP report, specifically stated by the test pilots
that said that flying the airplane outside the parameters that might
possibly get you into a vortex ring state absolutely had nil effect on
the operational capability of the airplane.
So my answer to that question is, is that we fly the airplane the way
we need to fly it, and we just avoid that piece of the envelope. I'm a
pilot by trade. Every - I'm a Hornet pilot by trade. Even the F-18,
as good as it is, has regions of the envelope that we're required to
avoid. So it's not unlike any other airplane.
Q: Sir, in fairness, the report - Coyle also says he didn't agree
that it was nil. And he went on to explain that the plane - even if
the pilot varied from the NATOPS [Naval Air Training and Operating
Procedures Standardization] rewrite, could inadvertently enter a
state, the ring vortex danger zone, as he put it, causing problems.
And he agreed with the Navy's and the Marine's approach to keep
aggressively testing. But did he not lay out a valid caveat there,
that inadvertently a pilot could get in there and not realize he or
she was in that ring vortex state?
Amos: Well, I think that there's always the possibility, by virtue of
the fact that it's a human being at the controls. Again, I go back to
my own experience in the airplanes that I fly. I can always
potentially fly them outside the envelope. And just like the F-18 has
warning devices in it to remind me when I'm intensely preoccupied in
the cockpit with mission, whatever, that tells me that, "Hey, you're
nearing stall" or "you're nearing a high angle of attack in this
airplane" - exactly the same kind of concept with this airplane.
The interesting thing is that we have at Patuxent River, Maryland, in
my mind, and certainly in the Navy and Marine Corps's mind, the finest
aeronautical engineers and test pilots, I think, that are resident in
America today. And resoundingly they came out in support of the fact
that we've identified the airplane's parameters when it approaches a
vortex ring state. We are confident that we can adjust - not adjust;
we're confident that we can identify those regions to the pilots, and
just like any other airplane, we can avoid them.
So it - you know, with - the Beyond LRIP report speaks a lot about
vortex ring state. I don't think it's a problem in this airplane, and
nether does Patuxent River test pilots.
Q: Let me just ask you about one other part of - aspect of that. That
is, it was noted that in the V-22 you could have this phenomenon of
power settling develop under one rotor but not the other --
Q: - causing the - to pitch or yaw --
Q: - which is what happened in the accident. Isn't that different
from what you would experience in a helicopter, and doesn't in that
some sense make this a little less forgiving, a little harder for the
pilots to realize what's happening and recover from it?
Amos: It will not be harder for him to recover from it, because he'll
never enter it as long as he flies the airplane within the parameters
established by the testing program, which is exactly, again, like
every other airplane that we have.
Q: Let me ask - when we last saw General McCorkle on this topic a few
months ago, and he was asked about warning devices - and at that
point he was - he thought that was not a practical solution. He said,
you know, you can't have a warning device going off for every damn
thing the plane is doing, and you'd constantly be ignoring them.
They'd be going off. And he just didn't think it was practical.
What has changed for him to now require that device? And has there
been a technological fix or what?
Amos: That was several months ago, and what's taken place since then
is, at General McCorkle's request, Patuxent River test pilots have
continued - and we're about 50 percent through the follow-on, what
they call high rate of descent testing.
And so we've got test pilots, both in the air and in the simulators,
continuing the high rate of descent testing to ensure that we
absolutely capture the parameters of this phenomenon in this
And as a result of that testing, we've just - he's come to the
conclusion that, why not? We have a ground proximity warning system we
put in the F-18. It's a software-induced - there are lines of code in
the software, and it gives you an oral warning that you are
approaching the ground. We have it in that airplane, why not put it in
this airplane? Why not put an oral warning in this airplane, or some
type of warning device? It would be foolish to not do that. And that's
the conclusion he's come to.
Q: It's based on just rate of descent?
Amos: It's based on rate of descent and forward velocity which is, by
the way, exactly what was in the NATOPS manual before the mishap.
Q: Some people might read this --
Q: To use your own word, you have a "rub" with this report. I think
that's the word that you used. Did the Marines get a chance to make
their objections to the report known to Coyle before he put it out? It
seems a bit unusual for you guys to be so publicly taking on an OSD
report with so many public objections.
Amos: Actually, I don't think I used the term, "I have a rub with this
report." Did I?
Q: You did, actually.
Amos: Yeah, I don't - in fact I think I - at the very beginning I
talked about two evaluations; one primarily military operational test
experience, and one civilian, which - and we need both of them to
give us the balanced perspective on it - on entering a new airframe
Q: Okay, I think you used the word "rub" in addressing the notion that
the report didn't adequately talk about the fact that the maintenance
costs would come down over time.
Amos: And I think - okay, and I do think that it's unrealistic to
think that the maintenance cost of this airplane is not going to come
down over time.
The airplane entered our service - entered our first squadron - in
July. I mean, this is November. I mean, it's - and that's why I say I
think it's unrealistic to think at this point, for this snapshot in
time, that this airplane is not going to improve in maintainability
and reliability when, in fact, it already has.
Q: But did the Marines get a chance to make their differences of
opinion known before the report came out?
Amos: We talked all the way through. We have a very good
communications setup between OPTEVFOR and the DOT&E [Director
Operational Test and Evaluation] folks. And we've been talking all the
way along - absolutely.
Q: What of the --
Q: One more budget question: This would be an interesting intellectual
discussion about a weapons system under early development if it wasn't
for the fact that next Tuesday the Marines or the Navy are going to
dictate possibly sending this into full-rate production, a potential
$30 billion decision.
At the end of an administration and at the eve of an incoming one, why
not keep this thing in low-rate production for another year while the
bugs are worked out and you can give the public and the military a
little bit more confidence that the plane is, in fact, improving?
Why the need for a Milestone 3 decision at this point in the program?
Amos: I'm probably not the guy to be able to answer that question, but
I can give you a glimpse on what full-rate production right now means,
just so you have a perspective. Full-rate production is we look over
the planned budget over the FYDP [Future Years Defense Program] is 16
airplanes in fiscal year '02. That's not a lot of airplanes. You know,
again, we've delivered nine airplanes this year. So that is --
full-rate production sounds like we're going to throw out 100
airplanes a year, and that's simply not the case. We're talking 16
airplanes in FY '02.
Q: You would agree, though, it's a symbolic major step in a program
that normally is irreparable - irrevocable - excuse me - can't be
turned off. You don't go back from Milestone 3.
Amos: That's right.
Q: That's the goal of all the services, to get --
Q: - the thing to Milestone 3, basically to protect the investment in
the program. And I'm just asking, what would be the problem of going a
year delay in that, because you can't answer this - you know --
Amos: Well, I tell you, I can only answer from my perspective, and
that's the airplane, from my, and from Marine aviation's perspective,
is operationally suitable and operationally - it's a program that can
be executed. It's a suitable airframe that will grow in maturity. And
we're very comfortable with that. And because of that, I have no
problems with the thing going in full-rate production. None
Q: The taxpayers might, or other - you know, members of Congress who
monitor OSD expenditures, and the building might - the Marines, of
course, wouldn't care. They want the thing go to Milestone 3. It's a
fiscal responsibility issue, I would think.
Amos: Next question.
Q: A layman reading this report, maybe just reading the - a cursory
review of this report, and maybe remembering the accident in April
might conclude that the V-22 is somehow a troubled program. What would
you say to someone who had that impression?
Amos: I don't agree that the V-22 is a troubled program. I think the
V-22 is a maturing program right now. And I think it's probably,
realistically, where it should be in its maturity. And I'd like to be
able to come back in a year from now and be able to answer that
question because I think you would be very satisfied with the answer
that I gave you a year from now.
Q: If this is a high-maintenance aircraft, is there a greater risk in
flying it? And at what point do you use it to move troops around and
that sort of thing?
Amos: We're using it - we move troops around on it right now. It is
Q: Is it safe --
Amos: I'm having just a little bit of trouble with the consistent
reference to it's a high maintainability airplane. It is an airplane
that is under - that is being introduced to the fleet for the very
first time. It is moving troops.
I was down at New River two weeks ago - just to give you a vignette,
a snapshot of what's going on at the squadron, there were six
airplanes sitting on the flight line. Five of them were up; they were
flying the airplanes consistently throughout the day. Only one of the
airplanes out of five were down. There were two that were in the
hangar for scheduled incorporation of airframes changes, part of these
118 airframes changes and changes that we put in there as a result of
maintainability and reliability. The airplanes are continuing to fly
at New River.
Q: Is it safe? Is it riskier to fly because of the maintenance?
Amos: It absolutely is not.
Q: I'm just trying to understand why over time - I think Ken
mentioned learning curve. Are you saying that the number of man hours
to maintain these planes and keep them flying is now a certain level,
and it will go down once you figure out the best way to do things, or
once you figure out the real maintenance parameters that you need to
do, once you have more experience with it? Is that why it will go
Amos: There are two reasons it will go down. One is the experience of
the maintainers. And again, remember when they went to Operational
Evaluation, the Marines that maintain those airplanes saw that
airplane for the very first time. Where did they come from? They came
from representative squadrons throughout the Marine Corps - C-130s,
CH-46s, H-53 squadrons. So their experience level has changed just
since it entered Operation Evaluation. And a portion of those Marines
have come to New River and Joined VMMT-204. So they are part of the
reason why the maintainability of the airplane will increase, and the
cost of maintaining the airplane will decrease.
The other piece of this thing is the quality assurance, just the
changes that are being put into parts of the airplane - the
fasteners, the blade-fold wing (inaudible) - the things that - the
(inaudible) plates on the airplane - all those things that come from
industry that only through flying an airplane and maintaining it in
the fleet will you understand and learn just exactly what the nuances
of that piece of - specific piece of equipment are.
We learn that. It's not unlike - probably not unlike my '72
Volkswagen that I bought brand new and I still have today. I can sure
maintain that a lot easier today than I could when I first got it.
Q: General, just before you - could we ask what your job is in
connection with the plane?
Amos: I am Lt. Gen. McCorkle's deputy - the assistant deputy
commandant of Marine Aviation.
Q: Your first name, sir.
Bacon: James, Jim, first name?
Amos: Yes, sir, Jim.
Bacon: Jim. Jim Amos. Thank you very much, General. Appreciate it.