Several MV-22 Ospreys sit at US Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan. (Capt. Caleb D. Eames / Marine Corps)
The Pentagon’s internal watchdog is poised to publish a classified report scrutinizing how much time the military’s V-22 Osprey spends in maintenance and unprepared for flight.
The Defense Department inspector general’s audit will determine whether the Osprey’s performance “meets mission capability rate requirements, as well as how the frequency of repairs and the replacement of supply parts” affects its mission readiness, officials with the IG’s office wrote in their August newsletter.
It is not clear who requested the audit, but its results will be classified, according to Bridget Ann Serchak, the IG’s chief of public affairs. She declined to provide further details.
However, the process did encompass several years’ worth of data. A memorandum from the IG, dated January 2012, indicates the audit was to include V-22 operations from Oct. 1 2008 through Sept. 30, 2011.
MV-22s are operated by the Marine Corps, which has two variants, the “B” and “C” models. They’re used to move troops and equipment, and this week began flying in support of President Obama’s elite executive transport unit, Marine Helicopter Squadron 1. Air Force CV-22s are used for special operations missions.
The Navy has expressed interest in acquiring Ospreys, too, as have some foreign militaries, including both Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
The tilt-rotor aircraft, which has seen extensive combat action in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been dogged by negative publicity dating to its earliest days, when separate crashes claimed the lives of several Marines. More recently, safety concerns have arisen in Japan, where civilians and some politicians have protested the Marine Corps’ intent to fly Ospreys over densely populated parts of Okinawa.
The Marine Corps’ first permanent MV-22 Osprey squadron began operating in Japan last fall. Twelve more aircraft arrived July 30 and were offloaded on the mainland with plans to move them to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.
At Japanese leaders’ request, the transfer was delayed for a week after an Air Force HH-60CQ Pave Hawk helicopter crashed Aug. 5 in a training area near the Marine Corps’ Camp Hansen.
The pending IG audit is not the first time V-22 readiness has been questioned. A 2009 Government Accountability Office report determined that during operations in Iraq, mission-capability rates “fell significantly below required levels as well as rates achieved by legacy helicopters.”
Maintenance was a big challenge, the GAO found, as squadrons grappled with “ an immature supply chain not always responsive to the demand for repair parts and aircraft and engine parts lasting only a fraction of their projected service life.”
Those shortages led military maintainers to cannibalize some aircraft in order to keep others running, the GAO report found, noting engines “fell significantly short of service life expectancy, lasting less than 400 hours versus the program estimated life of 500-600 hours.”
The Marine Corps and Air Force have shown improvement in their mission-capability rates since the GAO report was published.
In 2010, Marine Corps Ospreys spent nearly half their time under maintenance, ready for missions just 53 percent of the time. The Air Force was only slightly better, with their CV-22 variants ready for flight 54 percent of the time.
By 2011, the Air Force improved to have its Ospreys ready 58 percent of the time and the Marine Corps 63 percent. Last year, those figures were up to 62 percent and 68 percent, respectively.