The hospital ship Mercy just welcomed the tiltrotor aircraft that will serve as the Navy's next carrier delivery platform onto its deck for the first time.
The Navy last week began flight deck tests with the V-22 Osprey off the coast of Southern California, marking the first time a V-22 variant has landed on a Military Sealift Command, or MSC, hospital ship.
The Navy is using a Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 21 for these flight deck tests. The trials come as the Navy also prepares to bring its own CMV-22 variant into the fleet -- upgraded with extended range to ferry personnel and supplies between carriers and shoreline installations -- to replace the aging C-2A Greyhound.
The hospital ship underwent a seven-month maintenance period in which its flight deck was expanded to accommodate larger aircraft, according to an April 16 news release.
Hospital ships often operate in areas experiencing humanitarian crises; the change will allow more aircraft to transport people in need to the vessels more quickly. The Mercy returned to San Diego from Los Angeles last year following its support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's COVID-19 relief effort. The ship moved to Portland, Oregon, for maintenance and the upgrades needed to accept more types of aircraft, the Navy said earlier this month.
The Mercy will also practice takeoffs and landings with the MH-60 Seahawk, the release states.
"Improving the capability of the ship to support newer aircraft platforms such as the MV-22 allows greater flexibility and enhances the embarked Medical Treatment team's ability to continue providing the outstanding care they are known for," Capt. Kendall Bridgewater, commander of Military Sealift Command Pacific, said in the release. "This investment in new capability is a great example of MSC's continued support to the fleet and plays an important role in keeping the U.S. Navy competitive well into the future."
The latest tests not only mark a milestone for the V-22, but also for the Mercy. According to a 2011 innovation report, leaders for years have tried to reinforce the Mercy-class ships' limited deck capabilities to accept larger aircraft.
"Although the current ships are equipped with a Flight Deck, it is only large enough to land one MedEvac helicopter," the report states. "This results in a serious bottleneck as the ship loses the ability to transport large amounts of patients and cargo between the ship and the shore."
More than 100 personnel -- from San Diego, the amphibious assault ship Boxer, destroyer Stethem, amphibious assault ship Tripoli, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 3 and Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 49 -- are aboard the Mercy to train and assist its civil service mariner crew, the release states.