After calls for a V-22 production halt from a House committee because of problems with parts and logistics, and with the Marines planning to deploy about a dozen planes to Afghanistan, Boeing and the Marines came under intense pressure to prove they could fly the aircraft and maintain it at reasonable cost.
Boeing says the aircraft are ready for Afghanistan and other deployments, and the logistics issues are under control, although readiness rates and parts management will not soar immediately as the maintenance and logistics changes the company has made will work their way through the program over the next few years.
"Obviously, we want to hit the availability requirements that the Navy and Air Force has for all its systems out there. We think we'll reach those targets in a couple of years as the component changes work their way through the system, Gene Cunningham, Bell Boeing's VP for the V-22 program, said in an exclusive interview with DoD Buzz before the start of the Air Force Association's annual conference. "I believe we have taken a very aggressive posture on moving ahead on readiness improvements in a way that I don't think any other program has done in the past."
Bell Boeing has completely reworked its logistics planning based on data gathered during the V-22 deployment to Iraq, Cunningham said. Most of the logistics and maintenance snafus for the planes in Iraq were caused by the fact that the company based its planning on fixed wing and rotorcraft performance -- and not on actual V-22 performance -- since the V-22 had never deployed for combat before.
"We went out and projected what we thought would be the issues with the airplane. Some we got right, and some we got wrong," he said in a bit of understatement. To fix things, the company poured through the Iraq deployment data to see what how long parts really last under the intense pressure of bad conditions and combat and has rebuilt its logistics model to take that into account.
He said they also "have identified low or no cost items that can improve reliability" to help keep costs down as the aircraft is deployed aboard both Marine ships and on the front lines of Afghanistan.
Also, Cunningham said that one crucial concern that recently resurfaced -- the effects of downwash from the V-22s engines on troops as they deploy from the aircraft and as the plane lands on Marine ships -- does not pose any new problems to using the aircraft.
"Obviously, some folks weren't satisfied with the answers or would like to see different answers from us," he said. "The downwash is what the downwash is. We believe the downwash concerns are addressable and can be mitigated. We are not convinced there is a downwash problem."