Saturday, November 10, 2007

The U.S. Marine Corps has deployed its oft delayed, much maligned, and questionably capable pet project, the V-22 Osprey, to Iraq. On paper it is an engineering marvel, a tilt rotor vehicle that can function as both a helicopter and a fixed-wing craft. However, in practice it exhibits behaviors that you wouldn’t associate with either a plane or chopper. Critics charge that after a quarter century (and hundreds of billions) we are left with a bizarre amalgamation: a helicopter that is unstable in hover, a plane with finicky flight characteristics and prone to stall, and a troop transport without the necessary firepower to clear a landing zone.

It should be noted that the deployment has received little publicity. This is, in my opinion, a reflection of what little faith the Pentagon brass has in the Osprey. If attention is drawn to the project the first public failure of the craft in combat (which is, in my opinion, inevitable) will be met with sharp criticism. The decision to deploy the unproven aircraft in Iraq is puzzling. In addition to being an unproven combat vehicle the Osprey has, as noted by the Pentagons top tester "a tendency to generate a dust storm when it lands in desert-like terrain." Yes, you heard that correctly, we are using an aircraft that has a tendency to generate dust-storms to transport our troops around Iraq. Now, mere days before the Osprey will begin its combat operations, a V-22 went up in flames after an engine malfunction during a training flight.

The Osprey is still an impressive piece of equipment, but what is even more impressive is that the vehicle even made its way to combat deployment. The program is infamous as one of the most intensely politicized projects in the sordid-history of DOD’s cost-plus system. Development of the V-22 encountered nearly every bureaucratic obstacle imaginable (Dick Cheney in particular voiced his contempt) and the project was killed and then revived on several occasions. However, the steadily rising costs, 30 year development cycle, and two fatal crashes could not even prevent the project from continuation. Why? A huge contract with money spread evenly across the districts of some of the most powerful representatives in Congress. It might be a flawed piece of hardware that places our troops at risk, but at least it puts money in the pockets of good, hardworkin' Americans!

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