The Marine Corps is taking the Osprey to its fight in Afghanistan and its a more lethal version than the MV-22 the Corps top aviation officer credited with helping tame Iraqs Anbar province.
Pending successful testing, the Corps plans to deploy a contingent of recently developed weapons system kits that will provide the MV-22 Osprey with 360-degree firepower, according to Lt. Gen. George J. Trautman III, deputy commandant for aviation.
But Trautman confessed the Corps wont rack up body counts with the new weapon, which is defensive in nature, designed for fire suppression during high-speed infil and exfil missions.
I wouldnt expect to kill a lot of people with this system, Trautman said. Its a very difficult challenge without sophisticated fire control technology to be precise in your targeting.
The Corps has ordered nine of the so-called Remote Guardian System kits, but hopes to buy scores more to outfit the entire fleet of MV-22 aircraft. The 7.62mm rotary cannon in the RGS is mounted in the belly of an Osprey and is controlled by a crewman with a video game-like joystick and video monitor.
The service is also working to upgrade the Ospreys ramp-mounted machine gun to a .50 caliber version from its current M240 7.62mm machine gun.
The Osprey, Trautman boasts, will redefine the Afghan battle space where Leathernecks tangle with insurgent and Taliban forces in small units separated by 8,000-foot snow-capped mountains and vast rocky badlands.
Were incredibly confident [that] having the Osprey in that environment is going to pay dividends for our forces, and thats why we are intently focused on getting the aircraft into that theater, he said during an interview with military bloggers.
Trautman said the Corps aim is to deploy a handful of RGS detachable mission kits armed with surveillance capabilities on an MV-22 squadron bound for Afghanistans harsh environment this fall.
Thousands of Marines are expected to join in the increased American troop presence in Afghanistan following President Barack Obamas call for 10,000 more boots and rifles to wrest control from a resurgent Taliban.
Trautmans announcement follows the completion of months of testing by the Air Force Special Operations Command on the BAE Systems mission kits, which now gives the aircraft what many critics said it lacked from the beginning: an all-quadrant gun.
Both AFSOC and the Corps hope the new weapons package will enhance an aircraft that Trautman described as marvelously successful after 19 months in Iraq.
The performance thus far tells us that the aircraft completed every assigned mission and it did so flying faster, farther and with safer flight profiles than any other assault aircraft in the history of military operations, Trautman said.
Dogged by controversy and fatalities during its decades-long development and testing, the Osprey has apparently emerged tougher and smarter for its trials and is delivering Marines significant advantages over its predecessor in the CH-46 Sea Knight. And the new kit will now silence critics who have long called for an all-quadrant weapon for the aircraft.
Theres a reason we havent put an all-aspect weapon on the Osprey in the last decade, Trautman said. Its a tough technical challenge and has taken us a while to figure it out in an affordable way.
Trautman acknowledged that readiness issues brought on by environmental factors fine Iraqi dust hampered the Ospreys three combat tours in Iraq, but he said a refined system should help ensure replacements are in place downrange when critical components fail.
In Afghanistan, the Ospreys Gatling gun will join another new detachable weapons package as the Corps plans to introduce a slightly different weapons portfolio to its KC-130J Super Hercules refueler-transports.
Dubbed Harvest Hawk, the KC-130J may incorporate up to three weapons as well as a sophisticated surveillance system. The Corps is exploring including four wing-based Hellfire missiles, rear ramp-based precision munitions and a paratroop door-positioned cannon to the aircraft.
Both the MV-22 and KC-130J weapons packages are roll-on/roll-off kits that can be affixed to the aircraft in upwards of six hours. They are both manned by a dedicated crewman positioned in the rear of the cabin who operates a fire-control system that combines the video feeds and weapons control.
Trautman said the weapons portfolio will be used much like a helicopter crew, in which the pilot spots a target and talks the fire-control operator onto the target.
Trautman expects the speed and range of the MV-22 will help turn Texas into Rhode Island for Marine commanders in Afghanistans vast expanses, much like the Osprey did in Iraq.
-- Bryan Mitchell