The world's first new technology aircraft that can land and take off like a helicopter will taste blood in real battle conditions from next month in Iraq.
Informed sources here indicate that an unknown number of the Tiltrotor V 22 Ospreys, being manufactured by Boeing and Bell Helicopter, were already on their way into Iraq for offensive combat assault and combat support operations.
Named 'Osprey' after the white, fish-eating hawk found everywhere, two to 10 helicopters will be operational in Iraq in the next few weeks with the US Marine Corps, particularly to seek and destroy insurgent targets. Contingents of Marines have been practising touch-and-go landings from assault ships as well as the desert in Arizona for about a year.
Boeing officials told a group of defence analysts invited recently from India that Osprey had done nearly 30,000 hours of flight tests and that it was indeed battle ready now should the US government decide to send them.
It was described as a multi-mission, vertical lift, twin-rotor - or propellers - transport aircraft that can cruise at 640 km/hour at a comfortable height of 25,000 feet, and then, by tilting its rotors, land and rise vertically in a battlefield at much higher speeds than the conventional helicopters.
This writer, in the invited group on behalf of India Strategic defence magazine, was told by sources that some of the aircraft possibly were already in the Gulf at some location in the countdown towards deployment.
The sources pointed out that most of the equipment being used in Iraq and Afghanistan by the US forces was procured 20 years ago when Ronald Reagan was president. Today, due to the terrorists' runaway tactics, the emphasis was on new technology machines from helicopters to rough terrain vehicles, robots and sensors to engage them in precision and speedy attacks.
Notably, US and NATO troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are asking for more and more helicopters. There is already a demand on the US and European aviation majors to speed up the production of required machines.
Boeing gave the Indian analysts a tour of its Philadelphia production facility where parts of the Osprey and most of the Chinook helicopters are made. Both these helicopters have ultra-modern fly-by-wire glass cockpits with electronic displays to assist the pilots.
Boeing officials clarified that while they had nothing to do with the operational deployment, they were constantly improving the machines and their systems to give the best possible support to the war fighters, both in terms or equipment and weapons.
Osprey is described as seven times more survivable than conventional helicopters, thanks to its anti-armour coating, low radar signatures, and the speed to reach and get away.
The Bell-Boeing combination is to produce 360 MV 22 Ospreys for the elite Marines, 50 CV 22s for Air Force Special Operations Command, and 48 MV 22s for the Navy for personal recovery, special warfare and fleet logistics support.
Powered by Rolls Royce Liberty engines, the Osprey has a mission radius of 796 km and can carry 24 fully equipped troops. It can also carry large amounts of cargo and nearly 4,000 kg of under slung equipment. It can be refuelled mid-air to increase its range.