So, a couple of years ago some V-22 critics were saying that the Osprey was only being used as a sort of VIP ferry kept far from danger in Iraq during its initial deployments. Well, it turns out that the V-22 has been shot at, and hit, quite a bit in subsequent combat deployments around the world with the Air Force and Marines, the Osprey's program manager revealed this week.
"The aircraft, as I mentioned, has been engaged, it has been hit and every time it's been hit by enemy fire the aircraft has returned safely to base," said Marine Corps Col. Greg Masiello, NAVAIR's V-22 program manager during a press conference at the Navy League's annual Sea, Air, Space conference held just outside Washington.
While the colonel wouldn't give too many details about what kinds of weapons have hit the Ospreys, he repeatedly said that a "spectrum" of munitions had been fired at, and hit, the birds when asked point-blank if it was just small arms fire or heavier weapons such as Rocket Propelled Grenades.
"I think it's safe for me to say that it's been engaged by a spectrum of different weapons systems and in each case we've seen success as far as I would term the aircraft's ability to perform, fly safely and return back to the fight after it's been hit," said the colonel.
Interestingly, the relatively low-tech RPG is one of the deadliest threats to low flying rotor-wing aircraft due to the fact that the rounds have no guidance system to confuse with countermeasures.
He also said the birds are used for a range of operations from troop transport to search and rescue ops.
Furthermore, the Osprey's composite skin has proven to be tough and flexible enough to absorb hits better than metal, according to Masiello.
"Traditional steel, you hit that and you might hit the structural integrity but composite kind of goes throughout the fibers so if you hit that you're able to maintain that strength in that area," said Masiello. "We've been able to repair composites and we're able to effectively go out and repair the damage that was incurred and return to the fight; that's over a spectrum of different types of engagements."
Still the V-22's relative quiet, its speed and flight tactics used by its crews also play a big role in keeping the tiltrotor safe from enemy fire, said Masiello.
"What makes survivability? It's the vulnerability, its susceptibility [or lack of those] it's the speed of the aircraft and the tactics they're able to employ in remaining above the small arms fire," said Masiello. "It's also as simple as things like acoustics. . . . This is a quiet aircraft, it's able to come in at a speed and at altitude in airplane mode, and we have plenty of footage of very surprised people in a target area as the aircraft comes in out of nowhere, seemingly to them."
The Marines and their MV-22s deployed to Afghanistan recently logged more than 100,000 flying hours all without the loss of an aircraft. Meanwhile, Air Force Special Operations Command has used its fleet of CV-22s for classified missions around the world. While the missions frequently put the tiltrotors in harm’s way, not one has been lost to enemy fire. One CV-22 did crash-land in Afghanistan, killing four, due to what may have been a case of mechanical failure, pilot error or some combination of those. The service's investigation into that incident failed to recover the flight data recorder, meaning the cause of the first combat loss of a V-22 may never be fully understood.