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USNavy ready to issue V-22 contract

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Feb 22, 2008 (Fort Worth Star-Telegram - McClatchy-Tribune Information

Services via COMTEX) -- BA | news | PowerRating | PR Charts -- After nearly

three decades and upwards of $25 billion for development, testing, and

re-testing of the V-22 Osprey, Bell Helicopter, and the Boeing Co. are about

to hit the jackpot.

A senior Navy official said Friday that within the next month, the service

will issue a five-year, $11 billion-plus contract to Bell and Boeing, all

but assuring uninterrupted production of the Osprey through 2012 and beyond.

"At this point, we've reached agreement on the prices on the contract.

There's no major hurdles to get through, just some administrative details,"

William Balderson, deputy assistant Navy secretary for aircraft procurement,

said in an interview.

The contract will be for 167 aircraft, both MV-22s for use by the Marines

and CV-22 versions for the Air Force, including the 26 planes already on

order as part of the fiscal year 2008 budget.

Details of the contract have yet to be released, but Navy budget documents

show the service expects to spend an average of about $80 million each for

141 MV-22s from 2008 through 2012, or about $11.2 billion. That figure

doesn't include the Air Force version, which has equipment and costs more

per plane.

The multi-year contract gives the government a lower price, Balderson said,

because it allows the manufacturers to plan ahead and purchase materials and

parts in larger quantities.

Bell and Boeing, which jointly build the V-22, should get about $65 million

per aircraft, with the government buying the engines and other components

separately.

No more Pentagon approvals are needed for the Navy to issue the contract,

Balderson said. When the Pentagon gave approval for full rate production of

Osprey in September 2005 it gave the Navy the authority to enter into a

long-term production contract.

Balderson said that during the 4 1/2 months the Marines have been operating

the Osprey in Iraq, nothing has occurred to shake the confidence of Navy and

Marine officials in the aircraft.

"We're very pleased with the performance of the aircraft and the reliability

of the aircraft," the Navy official said.

Marine officials have kept a pretty tight rein on news about the Osprey's

use in Iraq, allowing only a few selected journalists to see the aircraft in

operation or talk to the troops and have gotten generally favorable reports.

Maj. Eric Dent, a Marine spokesman, said the 10 Ospreys of VMM-263 squadron

have flown more than 2,700 hours in "combat missions" -- essentially all

missions flown while in a combat zone.

"It continues to perform as expected," Dent said.

The Marines have acknowledged that keeping the aircraft in flying condition

has been a challenge. Dent said the availability, or mission capable rate,

is running slightly less than 70 percent rate -- about seven of 10 airplanes

available to fly at any time.

"It's about where we would expect it to be at this point," Dent said. "The

goal is to be at 82 percent."

Published reports indicate the aircraft, which are based in the now

relatively peaceful Al Anbar province of western Iraq, have seen little in

the way of actual combat action and as far as any one knows even been shot

at. A few missions were flown with troops for "armed reconnaissance" but saw

no hostile action.

One report noted that military commanders in the theater much preferred

flying the V-22 rather than helicopters because of the aircraft's greater

speed and smoother ride.

Marine insiders say internal correspondence shows the service has been very

concerned about accelerated wear and tear on the aircraft's components due

to the sandy conditions in Iraq, and have limited its operations mostly to

air bases and other prepared landing sites. Parts scavenging from aircraft

in the U.S., a not uncommon practice in wartime but heavier than usual, has

been required.

The Marines put out a press release recently touting the ability of three

V-22s to successfully carry 32,000 pounds of "food, water, clean laundry and

mail" from a base to an outpost in nets slung below the aircraft. That works

out to about five tons per aircraft, a load that could be carried by a

single heavy CH-53 helicopter.

Given the news reports of the V-22s use in Iraq, skeptics of the Osprey say

it's still questionable what the Marines and taxpayers are getting for their

money. The V-22 is three to five times as expensive as comparable modern

helicopters, but is faster and can fly higher.

"I think they can fly it ok as a truck and they're proving that," said Phil

Coyle, former director of the Pentagon's weapons testing office that issued

scathing reports about the aircraft's usefulness, safety and reliability

even before the 2000 crashes.

But if all the V-22 is used for as a truck or VIP transport, Coyle said, "I

think they've got enough already. They don't need more."

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congrats to bell and boeing...

25 billion $ to development and research.. dang :| lots of money

but at least unlike the Comanche it's still alive :)

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