Osprey's Next Jobs: Tanker or AWACS?


FARNBOROUGH, England -- The V-22 Osprey's program manager and his counterparts with Bell and Boeing have some high-tech aspirations for the future of their iconic -- and controversial -- tiltrotor.

Marine Col. Greg Masiello told reporters at the air show here Monday that the Osprey has only scratched the surface of the kinds of missions it could eventually take. Today, the big birds mostly ferry troops and equipment on the battlefield, but as more Ospreys enter service with more militaries, they could attempt any number of new missions.

Masiello said program officials are looking into giving an Osprey the capability to serve as a mid-air refueling tanker, a sort of miniature KC-130, which could trail a drogue and refuel another aircraft equipped with a U.S. Navy-style probe. That could include another Osprey, the way Navy carrier jets refuel each other, or almost any other aircraft with a refueling probe.

Masiello also said there's no limit to the kinds of command and control, intelligence sensing and reconnaissance equipment an Osprey could carry. Defense contractors have had success building "sleds" of equipment that can just roll onto Coast Guard C-130 or HC-144A airplanes, and a future Osprey could copy that model.

This led a reporter to ask Masiello if it were possible than an Osprey could someday replace the Navy's E-2 Hawkeye carrier-borne early-warning aircraft. Anything's possible, Masiello responded, and although he was clear that today there is no formal Navy or Defense Department interest in such a concept, y'never know.

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