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Hush Hush...The Ospreys Are Coming

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My colleague Jamie McIntyre has a post over on his new blog, The Line of Departure, on the Osprey's pending deployment to Afghanistan.

He forwards some intel from the Rainman of all things Osprey, Rick Whittle, who covered the plane as a reporter for the Dallas Morning News and took the buyout a few years ago to write his upcoming book on the helo/fixed wing hybrid transport "The Dream Machine: The untold story of the notorious V-22 Osprey."

I've worked with Rick a lot on stories back in his regular journalism days and I consider him a friend and colleague. He forwarded a note to Jamie giving his take on the deployment, which is now set for November, and I invite you to read the whole post at TLOD.

This is the first deployment to Afghanistan and it should be the acid test, given the terrain and climate and the fact that Al Qaeda and the Taliban will surely be gunning for the aircraft if they see it. The Osprey didnt get shot at much in Iraq because it was flying mainly in Anbar province, which was pretty peaceful at that time. It flew well in Iraq, even in searing heat, but most of that country is barely above sea level. Rotorcraft lose performance at higher altitudes and in hot temperatures, and Afghanistan is pretty high and hot.

Rick's got a point, though I would caveat it with the fact that in all likelihood the Ospreys will be operating mostly in support of RC-South where the capitol of Helmand provide sits at around 3,400 feet in elevation. I'd be interested to see the inside scoop on whether the Osprey can take off and land in a full-on hover in the altitudes of RC-East, though I suspect like with lots of helos (even the CH-47) there are some weight and landing altitude restrictions that will bracket the Osprey's operations.

But don't get all excited about helicopter assault missions and stuff either. Yes, some Marine units deployed for combat operations via CH-53s earlier this summer, but I doubt seriously those chomping for a Robert's Ridge style air assault test will get what they're asking for.

I will say this however, the Marine Corps refuses to speak on the record whether VMM-261 is taking its own aircraft or will fall in on aircraft in the area (the 22 MEU has Ospreys aboard its amphibs). If the squadron takes its own aircraft, would it self-deploy them or ship them over? We all know the answer to that one.

The excuse given is that alternatively the Marine Corps is worried about "operational security" by talking about how and when the planes will get there. Don't worry folks, I cried foul on that one, but was still denied any details. I was then told that the Corps was hoping to reduce the stress any media attention would have on the squadron so best not to say anything which would prompt more questions...

Why the paranoia? Does the Corps worry about opsec when it talks F-18, Harrier, Cobra, 53 and 46 squadron deployments...yes, to some extent, but there isn't a media blackout on it like there is here. Just what is the service worried about? Didn't Iraq prove that the plane could do what it was billed to do? Why still the first time jitters? Or is it, as my boss suspects, that there's something to hide here? Miserable mission capable rates, poor maintenance support, deteriorating parts etc.

I'm still on it, but let's energize the grid to get some answers folks.

Also, one last thing -- still checking up on the deployment of the Remote Guardian gun system. We reported that the Corps planned to arm the Afghanistan MV-22s with the underbelly gun, but now there's some doubt based on the mystery surrounding which planes will be part of the deployment. The 22 MEU birds don't have the guns, and I'm not sure if the 261 planes have it either...so can the system be retrofitted in country?

-- Christian

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