With the recent $38 billion in cuts that Democrats and Republicans have agreed to, it is rather obvious that future budget talks will focus on finding other ways to shrink the federal budget. One obvious, yet politically sensitive place to look would be the Department of Defense (DoD). Few are willing to make significant cuts in the DoD budget because of the possibility of looking weak on national security issues, but there is money to be found.
One cut that should be agreed upon is the cancellation of continued research and production on the V-22 Osprey. The V-22 is a tilt-rotor aircraft -- meaning that it can take off, land, and fly like a helicopter, or it can perform these same functions as a fixed-wing aircraft. While this may sound like the next generation of aircraft, it does not mean that this particular one suits the needs of our military.
The Marine Corps -- the primary buyer of the V-22 Osprey -- desperately needs to replace their retiring CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters, and may look to the V-22 to fill the void. But the military already has a promising replacement ready to begin production and testing: the Sikorsky CH-53K Super Stallion, an upgraded heavy-lift helicopter than can hold more troops and fly higher than the Osprey (while the Osprey is in its helicopter mode, that is). In fact, back in 2007 the Marine Corps increased their orders of the Super Stallion by 50 percent.
On top of this, one must consider that the track record of the Osprey is not very impressive, and the Government Accountability Office even believed that their sub-standard performance in Iraq should prompt a review by the DoD. The Ospreys were available for combat operations only 68 percent of the time, well below the minimum requirement. The Osprey also has very little armament, and only recently have some been fitted with a mounted machine gun.
One final point to reflect upon is the cost of the program. From its inception in the early 1980’s through 2008, the V-22 program cost $25.7 billion. What is even more significant is that the DoD expects to pay up to $131.5 million per aircraft, a cost rivaling the already-shelved F-22 Raptor. It is likely that the cost of the program and their relative ineffectiveness has led many to request a significant reductionin the number of Ospreys purchased.
The U.S. government has already spent billions on this project, but should know when to cut its losses and focus on more promising aircraft. The V-22 Osprey is certainly an astonishing aircraft that gives a glimpse into the future of aeronautics. It has not proven to be a practical and prudent investment, however, and should join the F-22 on the shelves of the Pentagon.
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