WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary William S. Cohen pointed to the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft parked on the Pentagon parade field and said, "This is the revolution in military affairs in action."
Cohen said during a Sept. 8 Pentagon demonstration that joint warfighters need the tilt-rotor's capability. "Any major study we have done -- the Quadrennial Defense Review, Joint Vision 2010, the National Defense Panel -- stresses the need for this capability," Cohen said.
The secretary placed the Osprey in the same class as other systems that revolutionized warfare -- the dreadnoughts of World War I, the aircraft carriers of World War II and the fighter-bombers and unmanned aerial vehicles of Operation Allied Force over Yugoslavia.
"The tilt-rotor will have the same effect on battle in the next century," he said. Bell Boeing Helicopter Textron Inc. developed the V-22. Current plans call for the Marine Corps to purchase 360 MV-22Bs, the Air Force to buy 50 CV-22A special operations aircraft and the Navy to purchase 48 HV- 22Bs.
The V-22 can take off and land like a helicopter. Once in the air, Osprey's rotors swivel forward and serve as gigantic propellers for horizontal flight. Osprey travels four times faster than the CH-46 it will replace, carries a larger load of troops or supplies and has twice the range.
"It's fun to fly," said Marine Corps Maj. Paul Rock Jr., a test pilot on the V-22 Multiservice Test Team at Patuxent Naval Air Station, Md. "One thing a helicopter pilot has to get used to flying this is the acceleration and deceleration are much greater. [The V-22] gets up and gets going."
Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Emerson N. Gardner Jr., assistant deputy chief of staff for aviation, said the MV-22 will carry 15,000 pounds externally and will deliver 24 fully outfitted Marines in half the time it currently takes.
"Buildup on shore will be faster, and that's everything to a commander," he said. The first Marine Corps MV-22B squadron will be operational at New River Marine Corps Air Station, N.C., in 2001.
The Air Force version of the aircraft will be used by Special Operations Command for long-range missions, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Maxwell C. Bailey. The service will reconfigure the aircraft slightly, adding radars to allow the aircraft to fly nap-of-the-earth missions. They will also carry more advanced radios and electronic warfare gear. Initial operations for the CV-22As will be in 2004 at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
Tilt-rotor technology began as a joint NASA-Army project. Bell Helicopters received a contract in July 1972 to build and test two aircraft. One of them, the MV-15, was painted in Coast Guard colors and at the Pentagon demonstration. Intended as a limited testbed aircraft 20 years ago, the MV-15 it is still flying today.