The British manufacturing company Cobham has been contracted to develop a system that will allows the Marines MV-22B Osprey to conduct in-flight refueling of other aircraft, notably the new F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.
Cobham announced Tuesday it had been awarded a contract from the Bell-Boeing Joint Project Office to develop a "roll-on/roll-off" palletized refueling system, know as the V-22 Aerial Refueling System, or VARS. VARS will be based on Cobham's existing FR-300 hose drum unit, used by the KC-130 for in-air refueling of other aircraft. With the system, according to a news release, the Osprey can conduct mid-air refuelings of the F-35 and the F/A-18 Hornet, from land or from off an aircraft carrier.
This, the release notes, will extend the fighter aircrafts' operational range and loiter times.
"With VARS we continue the tradition of providing industry leading aerial refueling capability to war fighters, Kevin McKeown, vice president and general manager of Cobham said in a statement. "This program will enable the Marines to extend the flying range of their fighter aircraft and allow for efficient shipboard operations.”
The refueling system will be developed at Cobham's Mission Systems facility in Davenport, Iowa, according to the release. After testing, the first VARS kits will be delivered in 2018.
Adding mid-air refueling as a capability to the Osprey has long been a goal of Marine Corps aviation leaders. The Corps' 2016 aviation plan calls aerial refueling a future MV-22 mission set, and states that the aircraft will eventually be able to conduct mid-air refueling for other tiltrotor aircraft and helicopters as well as fixed-wing fighters.
The plan also states that a fully capable VARS will be fielded in Fiscal 19.
"This system will be able to refuel all [Marine air-ground task force] aerial refuel capable aircraft with approximately 10,000 pounds per VARS-equipped V-22," the document says.