V-22 Osprey Tilt-Rotor Aircraft

Publication Date: December 2009

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Author(s): Jeremiah Gertler

Research Area: Military and defense

Type: Report


The V-22 Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft, capable of vertical or short take off and landing, with forward flight like a conventional fixed-wing aircraft. The MV-22 is the Marine Corps' top aviation priority. Marine Corps leaders believe that the Osprey will provide them an unprecedented capability to quickly and decisively project power from well over the horizon. The Air Force's CV-22 version will be used for special operations. Army officials have testified that the service has no requirement for the V-22, but the Navy has expressed interest in purchasing MV-22s for a variety of missions.

The V-22 program has been under development for over 25 years. Safety and maintenance concerns have arisen during this period (due in large part to three fatal accidents). The commander of the V-22 maintenance squadron admitted to falsifying maintenance records to make the aircraft appear more maintainable than it was, and three Marines were found guilty of misconduct. The program has maintained support from many in Congress despite these deficiencies. The program has undergone restructuring to accommodate congressional direction, budget constraints, and recommendations from outside experts, and DOD managers. After a 17 month hiatus, the Osprey embarked on its second set of flight tests in May of 2002. Tests were completed in June 2005 to the satisfaction of Navy testers, who believe that the V-22 has resolved all technical and engineering problems identified in internal and external reviews. On September 28, 2005 the V22 program passed a major milestone when the Defense Acquisition Board approved it for military use and full rate production. Supporters tout the V-22's potential operational capabilities relative to the helicopters it will replace. It will fly faster, farther and with more payload than the CH-46 Sea Knight the Marine Corps currently operate. They argue that this combination of attributes, coupled with the ability to take off and land vertically will provide the Marine Corps with new and potentially transformational capabilities. Detractors tend to emphasize the V-22's long development schedule, its three fatal accidents, and its high cost relative to the helicopters it will replace. V-22 opponents argue that modern helicopters also offer capabilities superior to the CH-46's and more cost effectively than the Osprey. Through FY2006, $20 billion had been provided for the V-22 program. The Defense Department's Selected Acquisition Report of December 31, 2005, estimated the total acquisition of a 458-aircraft program would be $50.5 billion, which translates into a program acquisition cost of $88.5 million per Osprey.

This report will be updated as events warrant.