During Osprey Stand-Down, Some Forward Units Are Limiting Their Use in Operations

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A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey prepares to land
A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey prepares to land during a mission rehearsal exercise as part of Steel Knight 23.2 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Nov. 30, 2023. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Juan Torres)

The military's force-wide Osprey stand-down following a crash that killed eight special operations airmen last month has limited how the aircraft can be used for operations and training -- even as global tensions in the Middle East, Europe and the Pacific grow.

The Marine Corps and Air Force told Military.com this week that as units conduct maintenance and inspections on grounded Ospreys, some of the most forward and elite units are limiting their use while deployed. The Navy -- which flies the fewest number of Ospreys and uses them mostly for logistics purposes -- said that its "operation schedule" remains unchanged for now.

The grounding comes as U.S. forces have faced near daily attacks in the Middle East from Iran-aligned militants since Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel in October and sparked a war in Gaza. The stand-down was ordered after the most recent deadly Osprey crash in Japan and renewed questions about the aircraft's safety, even as some branches told Military.com they remain confident in the platform.

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The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit has been reported to be operating near the waters off Israel and in the Red Sea since October in response to rising tensions in the region. A press release earlier this month showed elements of the unit training with Greek Marines in the Mediterranean.

The Marine Corps told Military.com that the unit, which is capable of embassy evacuations, humanitarian assistance and maritime interception operations, "is authorized to conduct limited operations of the Osprey in support of emergent operational necessity," though only with a three-star general's permission.

The Corps has nearly 400 Ospreys, the lion's share of the fleet, which are affected by the stand-down. It relies heavily on the Osprey to conduct ship-to-shore operations while deployed and in training. The Osprey is its premier medium-lift airframe.

Meanwhile, Air Force Special Operations Command said that the stand-down applies to all CV-22s stateside and deployed for missions overseas. The Air Force utilizes its 51 CV-22s primarily for special operations missions, and they can be used only following "thorough risk mitigation if an urgent operational need arises," an official told Military.com.

The Air Force's CV-22s are currently deployed in England, Japan and Africa.

The stand-down also affects training, and aircrews are utilizing other methods to get their repetitions in as the investigation into the Nov. 29 incident continues.

"Aircrews will continue to train in simulators to the maximum extent possible to mitigate proficiency and currency loss," Air Force Special Operations Command said in an emailed statement. "AFSOC is closely monitoring impacts to personnel."

Military.com asked the Navy whether its operations were limited as a result of the stand-down. A spokesperson for Naval Air Forces told the outlet there were no immediate limitations on operations as the Navy has other assets to help with logistics.

The Marine Corps told Military.com that, instead of the Osprey, units are relying on what it referred to as "highly capable" alternatives for ship-to-shore operations: the UH-1Y Venom, CH-53E Super Stallion and KC-130J Hercules, and joint capabilities, such as the U.S. Navy SH-60 Seahawk and the Army's CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk, are considered options.

"The MV-22B Osprey is a highly capable military aircraft, and the Marine Corps has confidence in this platform," a spokesperson for the service, Capt. Alyssa Myers, told Military.com. "Flying an aircraft is an inherently dangerous mission to execute, but we train to reduce risk and to reinforce the safety of all service members.

"We are a force in readiness, and our MV-22 squadrons will do everything to remain ready to answer our nation's call," Myers added.

Since the Osprey's first flight in 1992, it has been involved in numerous crashes, accidents and mishaps, leading to more than 60 deaths. There have been 20 deaths since 2022 -- 12 Marines and eight airmen killed in four different incidents.

A mechanical failure known as a hard clutch engagement, or HCE, has plagued the Osprey for more than a decade, with at least 15 known incidents occurring between 2010 and 2022. An HCE happens when the aircraft's clutches -- which when working properly allow for one engine to power both propellers -- jam and shred internal components connected to the rotors.

One essential component that can wear out and lead to a clutch failure is the input quill assembly. While the incident is still under investigation, the Air Force noted that preliminary indications in the November crash that killed eight airmen indicated a "potential materiel failure."

An Air Force Special Operations Command official told Military.com last week that preliminary findings in the Nov. 29 mishap show that the flight hours on the input quill assembly were likely below the 800 flight hour threshold for replacement that was announced in February.

Three Marines were killed in August when their Osprey, part of a routine joint training exercise, crashed off the coast of Australia. The cause of the crash has yet to be confirmed by the service. The next month, three Ospreys made forced landings in Japan within days of one another, but the Corps said at the time there were no indications of HCE issues.

Meanwhile, each branch is conducting its stand-down in accordance with its respective orders, which were announced at the same time.

The Marine Corps said that it is conducting maintenance, using flight simulators, and holding "ready room" discussions during the pause in operations. The Navy, which has only 27 Ospreys, said that it is working on "branch plans" or contingencies to conduct operations while the V-22 is sidelined.

Air Force Special Operations Command told Military.com last week it has appointed general officers for both the Safety Investigation Board and Accident Investigation Board to look into the causes of the Nov. 29 crash.

"This stand-down will allow time for safety investigations to happen and give time to figure out how to implement any risk mitigations that may be needed," Capt. Amy Rasmussen, an AFSOC spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement. "The CV-22s will not be returned to flight until they are deemed safe to fly for all of our aircrews."

Related: Deadly Osprey Incidents Mount as Air Force Investigates Potential Mechanical Issue in Japan Crash

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