The V-22, slated to head to Afghanistan in October, is performing at acceptable readiness rates, Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway told reporters Wednesday.
"They are where we expected them to be at this level in the development of the aircraft," Conway told me when I asked him about the consistent rumors about sub-par readiness rates. The V-22s are expected to eventually achieve a readiness rate of 90 percent, Conway said. He declined to give the current number, although when one reporter said 80 percent, Conway appeared to agree.
The commandant's comments should be of interest to the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, whose chairman accused the Pentagon -- not the Marines -- of "stonewalling" his committee when OSD refused to release "copies of two reports on the performance of the Osprey in Iraq, called 'Lessons and Observations.' ” Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) also requested a list of all V-22 Ospreys acquired by the Defense Department, including their current locations and flight status. Committee staff there were concerns about the Osprey's readiness rates.
The most exciting and persistent rumor about Osprey readiness holds that there is a Hangar of Shame where two dozen broken Ospreys have supposedly been sent to be picked apart for parts.
One source compiled the following theory:
Based on second-hand reports and my speculation, I suspect around two dozen V-22 are hidden in storage for these reasons.
1. The GAO reported in 2008 that V-22s continued to be accepted with "deviations and waivers." This means Bell-Boeing got paid on delivery and probably promised to fix the problems. But some aircraft are not safe, and remain in storage in Amarillo. These may be "lemons" that must be scrapped for parts and built anew, but Bell doesn't want to do that.
2. V-22s have suffered from unrepairable cracks or fire damage that can't be fixed. These weren't reported as "mishaps" and the aircraft were scavenged for parts by Marines at New River. Some were sent to depots for repairs, but sit there since they are not repairable.
3. Some earlier V-22s were sent to Amarillo for upgrades and during this process it was discovered they had cracks and were unsafe. These were pushed into storage.
I don't know the truth, but I suspect this is where these V-22s can be found. These two dozen will be joined by more V-22s as they fail.
Another source said, "there are several damaged V-22s in a hangar at New River NC that were cannibalized for parts. I’ve been told there are several that were sent back to Amarillo for conversion to “Block Bs”, but their airframes had damage that couldn’t be repaired. Congress has funded 150 V-22s through FY2009, so around 140 have been delivered. The Corps claims only 84 are in service, and won’t account for the rest. Meanwhile, there are none in Iraq or Afghanistan. From what I understand, after two years of service they have so many problems with leaky hydraulic lines and cracks in wings or the floor that they are quietly retired."
The Marines' response to all this: "Nonsense." Maj. Eric Dent, Marine aviation spokesman, said in an email that there are "a few aircraft used in the initial testing and development (pre-block A) that are pending disposition (convert/upgrade/etc)." And that's it. Dent promised to provide more details and we will provide them as soon as he send them.