Farnborough Air Show -- After some seven months of flying in Afghanistan the percentage of the Osprey fleet ready for flight each day has stalled out at roughly 70 percent, a figure the head of Marine aviation says must be improved.
Lt. Gen. George Trautman told DoD Buzz in an exclusive interview that those rates are "not good enough for me." While they are roughly similar to readiness rates for the Marines' venerable CH-53 Sea Stallion, he said he expects more from the Osprey. He placed most of the blame for the Osprey readiness rates on Afghanistan's incredibly fine dust and the fact that parts for the Ospreys must make incredibly long and expensive trips to get to the front.
Afghanistan is "the harshest environment," he said, and that has led to parts wearing out faster than expected. Combine the environment with the enormous distances parts must be shipped and the limited space for them on transports and you have a serious challenge. To keep up the flow of parts, Trautman said he is pressuring companies to turn out critically need parts in greater numbers and with greater speed. "It's not as easy as going down to Walmart and buying some screws you forgot to buy," he said. The general praised Bell-Boeing, the plane's maker, for coming up with dust screens for the nacelles and to reduce damage to wiring.
While Afghanistan is uniquely challenging, it has also been the source of some good news for the Osprey, Trautman said. The plane has "proved its survivability," sustaining a number of hits from 12.7 rounds, a more lethal load than the American .50 caliber.
Trautman also confirmed an earlier story by DoD Buzz that the V-22's unique capabilities has allowed Marines to craft new tactics, tactics they used with certain effect during the battle to retake Marja. In particular, he said the aircraft is "so quiet, so maneuverable, so fast" that it can come into a combat zone "before the enemy knows it's there." He said Taliban have been caught flat- footed as Ospreys have slipped in less than 200 yards from a house: "You see a huge dust cloud and Marines run out of it. Then the enemy comes running out of the buildings. They don't even hear them (Ospreys) come in."
Finally, the BAE Systems Remote Guardian underbelly gun system is working well but is not getting a great deal of use because of the tactics and procedures being used by the Marines, he said.