The Navy has reached a $6.5 billion deal with a joint venture of Textron Inc.'s Bell Helicopter unit and Boeing Co. for 99 V-22 Ospreys that likely cements the long-term future of the tilt-rotor aircraft as part of the military’s air inventory.
The five-year contract through 2017, with an option for 22 more Ospreys, was expected to be announced Wednesday, according to James O’Donnell, a spokesman for the V-22 Joint Program Office at Naval Air Systems Command, which negotiates contracts with the manufacturers.
O’Donnell said the order will include 92 MV-22 Ospreys for the Marine Corps and seven CV-22 versions for the Air Force, with advanced radars and extra fuel tanks for Special Forces operations. The five-year bulk order was expected to save $1 billion over buying the Ospreys individually, O’Donnell said.
“This shows the confidence that the Marine Corps and the Air Force have in the aircraft,” O’Donnell said.
Fort Worth, Texas-based Bell Helicopter, part of Providence, R.I.-based Textron Inc., teamed with Chicago-based Boeing to make the aircraft.
The military and the manufacturers say the Osprey's performance in Iraq and Afghanistan, where it has logged more than 180,000 flight hours, proves its reliability. The aircraft takes off and lands like a helicopter, yet flies like a fixed-wing plane, giving it longer range and greater speed.
During development of the Osprey, more than 30 Marines and civilian contractors were killed in crashes. Some lawmakers and Defense Department officials sought unsuccessfully to cancel the program.
"Since 2007, V-22s have been continuously forward-deployed in a range of combat, humanitarian, and special operations roles,” O’Donnell said. “Additionally, V-22s are being deployed and assigned around the globe from East Asia to Europe in support of our Marine Corps and Air Force war fighters.”
In April, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in Tel Aviv the first foreign purchase of the Osprey for the Israeli special forces. The number of Ospreys Israel would receive was not announced but it was believed to be at least five for $70 million apiece, which would likely come out of the more than $3 billion in military assistance the U.S. gives Israel annually.
The first foreign sale of the Osprey culminated a long courtship of Israel by the Marine Corps and the Bell-Boeing joint venture. Going back to early 2011, Israeli air force pilots were brought to the Marine air base in New River, N.C., to train on simulators and take test flights at the controls of the aircraft, according to Marine Capt. Richard Ulsh, a Marine spokesman.
“No other (foreign) militaries have done that” or been afforded the opportunity, Ulsh said.
The Marines and Bell-Boeing have said that several other countries have shown interest in the Ospreys. The countries have not been named, but Middle East news reports have said that the United Arab Emirates has been haggling for more than a year with Bell over a purchase price, which now comes to about $70 million apiece.
Other countries that have had extended briefings on the Osprey include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Italy, Brazil, Colombia, Singapore and Australia.
“We believe foreign interest is a direct result of the aircraft's sustained superior performance in a myriad of highly visible missions and taskings,” O’Donnell said.