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Navy Order Seen Boosting Foreign Osprey Sales

The MV-22 Osprey won’t be at the Paris Air Show for potential buyers to kick the tires, but that might not be necessary after a $6.5 billion vote of confidence by the U.S. government in the tilt-rotor aircraft.

“We’re not bringing one” to Paris, a Marine Corps spokesman said of the Osprey, though Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, the deputy commandant for aviation, and Col. Greg Masiello, program manager for the Osprey, will be on hand at Le Bourget airfield outside Paris to talk up the aircraft’s capabilities.

Naval Air Systems Command on June 12 awarded a joint venture of Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter and Boeing Co. a $6.5 billion contract for 99 Ospreys – 92 for the Marines and seven for the Air Force. The agreement was expected to intensify interest by foreign buyers who would be key to keeping the production line open past the current phase out date in 2018.

The MV-22, a frequent performer at air shows worldwide in the past, has been barred along with all other U.S. military aircraft from participating in air shows to save money as the military struggles to meet the automatic budget cuts ordered up by the congressional process called sequester.

A Bell-Boeing team will also attend the Paris event to back up Schmidle and Masiello when they brief potential buyers on June 17, according to William Schroeder, a Bell spokesman.

The Marines 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.

In April, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in Tel Aviv the first foreign sale 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 Osprey deal culminated a long courtship of Israel by the Marine Corps and Bell-Boeing. 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, he said.

Indeed, in a visit to the U.S., Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on June 14 made his first flight in an Osprey as part of a demonstration before landing at the Pentagon to meet with Hagel.

The sale to Israel has piqued additional interest in the V-22s among other nations, officials said. “I can tell you that several countries are very, very interested” in the Osprey, Schroeder, the Bell spokesman, said at the time, without naming them.

The Marines and Bell-Boeing say several other countries have shown interest in the Osprey, three of which have reportedly exchanged letters with the Pentagon on a possible purchase.

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. Other countries that have received extended briefings on the aircraft include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Italy, Brazil, Colombia, Singapore and Australia.

The Marines and Bell have aggressively marketed the Osprey at air shows around the world. Last year, the Osprey performed at the Farnborough air show outside London, and at similar air shows in Singapore and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

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