The Marines are using Ospreys to help set up ambush kill boxes as they hunt the Taliban around Marja, a source familiar with the issue tells us. This may help put paid to the criticism that Ospreys are basically really fancy flying buses. If they are being used where lead is flying and playing a key combat role it's pretty hard to disregard them, unless you can also disregard assets like Bradleys and Strykers.
The Marines have been generally willing to talk up the performance of the Osprey tiltrotors in Afghanistan, they have been pretty quiet about just how they have been used in combat situations. For example, Col. Kevin Vest, commander of Marine aviation over in Afghanistan, and Lt. Gen. George Trautman, deputy commandant for aviation, told my colleague Christian Lowe that a commando raid late last week by Marine Force Reconnaissance troops and Afghan commandos near Marja relied on the MV-22 Osprey.
Here's what Christian reported at our sister site Kit Up:
Vest said he'd held the Ospreys back as a QRF in case the Taliban tried to make trouble in far-off spots of the AO while 4,000 Marines were committed to Marja. The only other high profile time the Osprey had been used during the operation was to extract civilians bodies killed in an errant HIMARS strike from the town during a daylight mission. That's the one where an Osprey came under fire from RPGs and small arms.
For the raid this morning, which took place at 0200 Afghan time, a group of 120 Force Recon and Afghan National Army troops were inserted by three MV-22s in two waves into an "enemy controlled area" to serve as a blocking force for 3/6. The ACE for that raid included Harriers, Hueys and Cobras and a variety of UAVs and C2 platforms to count bad guy heads and keep them down.
The ACE in Afghanistan has a compliment of 10 Ospreys, but will soon receive two more from the squadron attached to the 24th MEU which helped out in Haiti. Those MV-22s will fly from the Red Sea when the MEU moves out of the Suez all the way to Afghanistan making one refueling stop, Trautman said.
Also, Kit Up has learned that three of the Ospreys in theater have the BEA Systems Remote Guardian underbelly gun system, with two more yet to be installed. Trautman said the Corps had received $30 million to buy more. Vest added that the gun hasn't yet been fired in anger.
While it's true that the gun wasn't used in anger, the Ospreys were, our source says, used in a unique way with Cobras to build a kill box into which they drove Taliban fighters. This is roughly the way it worked. The Cobras followed the Taliban, who know helicopter capabilities and tactics as well as any ground force in the world. The Taliban carefully headed out through valleys on their way to safety, thinking the Cobras were all they had to worry about. But we understand that the Marines sent some of those Ospreys which are still being criticized as being used as fancy flying buses up and around and behind the Taliban. Their ability to fly faster than regular rotorcraft allowed them to get behind the Taliban. They landed and deployed their Marines, who then boxed the Taliban in.
We can't go into details, but we understand these tactics succeeded in the capture and death of some Taliban fighters.