Canada Defense Minister: Buy American surplus aircraft to boost Cormorant helicopters

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Canada’s Defense Minister Peter MacKay says buying surplus American aircraft will boost the availability of Canada’s beleaguered Cormorant helicopters.

His comments came Wednesday as more questions were raised about how often the Canada’s 14 front-line search-and-rescue helicopters are in the shop.

Defense planners are also paying more attention to a controversial U.S. tilt-wing aircraft, seen as a possible magic-bullet replacement.

Canada’s National Defense spent $164 million this summer buying leftovers from Washington’s cancelled VH-71 presidential helicopter program, an updated version of CH-149 Cormorants.

A briefing note to MacKay warned last year that the Cormorant’s availability is “barely adequate” to meet search-and-rescue requirements, requiring aging Sea King helicopters to be put on standby along the East Coast to replace them.

“Since its introduction in 2001, the Cormorant fleet has been plagued by parts availability and technical support problems, significantly reducing its mission readiness for both training and operations,” said the Sept. 1, 2010, briefing, obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information.

The report warned of “extended periods” when the search helicopter, purchased by the Liberals, would be unavailable along the East Coast.

One possible solution under serious consideration is the purchase of Bell-Boeing’s V-22 Osprey, which could fill the gap in not only helicopter operations, but with the country’s aging fixed-wing search planes that the government has been trying to replace for a decade.

The Osprey, which had a series of spectacular crashes in the developmental stage, is expensive at almost US$67 million per aircraft. It is currently flown by U.S. marines.

The Conservative government sent the company a letter of interest in late 2009, according to defence sources.

In the meantime, the air force has plugged along, trying to keep the Cormorants flying. Its availability rate has often dipped below 40 per cent, according to the documents.

The Defense Department did not answer questions about the Cormorant’s service record and is now refusing to conduct any interviews about the aircraft, especially where it relates to its primary search-and-rescue role.

A second Defense Department briefing, also obtained by The Canadian Press, says using spares from cannibalized U.S. helicopters will allow Cormorant maintainers to stop robbing their own aircraft of parts to keep the fleet in the air.

New Democrat defence critic Jack Harris says the U.S. choppers, which include nine airframes and spare parts, should be upgraded to flying condition and added to Canada’s rescue fleet.

“They could easily reconfigure these helicopters for search and rescue,” he said Wednesday.

But the internal analysis of the purchase suggested it would be a lot of work to bring the mothballed aircraft up to standard.

“The nine assembled spares (airframes) have no valid airworthiness certificates and do not meet the minimum equipment configuration required to employed as a SAR helicopter without modifications,” said the Oct. 29, 2010, briefing.

A former squadron commander said purchasing Ospreys means the air force could do with one aircraft as opposed to two.

“In search and rescue, you’re always left the requirement to land as close as possible to the crash site even after you’ve pushed a couple of Sartechs (search and rescue technicians) out the back of the Hercules (transport plane),” said Dean Black, a retired lieutenant-colonel.

“There’s still the requirement to get down there. That requires some sort of vertical take off and landing capability.”

Doomsday defense cuts hit close to home

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For the dozen lawmakers tasked with producing a deficit-cutting plan, the threatened “doomsday” defense cuts hit close to home.

The six Republicans and six Democrats represent states where the biggest military contractors — Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics Corp., Raytheon Co. and Boeing Co. — build missiles, aircraft, jet fighters and tanks while employing tens of thousands of workers.

The potential for $500 billion more in defense cuts could force the Pentagon to cancel or scale back multibillion-dollar weapons programs. That could translate into significant layoffs in a fragile economy, generate millions less in tax revenues for local governments and upend lucrative company contracts with foreign nations.

The cuts could hammer Everett, Washington, where some of the 30,000 Boeing employees are working on giant airborne refueling tankers for the Air Force, or Amarillo, Texas, where 1,100 Bell Helicopter Textron workers assemble the fuselage, wings, engines and transmissions for the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

Billions in defense cuts would be a blow to the hundreds working on upgrades to the Abrams tank for General Dynamics in Lima, Ohio, or the employees of BAE Systems in Pennsylvania.

For committee members such as Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., the threat of Pentagon cuts is an incentive to come up with $1.5 trillion in savings over a decade. Failure would have brutal implications for hundreds of thousands workers back home and raise the potential of political peril for the committee’s 12.

“I think we all have very good reasons to try to prevent” the automatic cuts, Toomey told reporters last week when pressed about the impact on Pennsylvania’s defense industry. “That is not the optimal outcome here, the much better outcome would be a successful product from this committee.”

The panel has until Thanksgiving to come up with recommendations. If they deadlock or if Congress rejects their proposal, $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts kick in. Up to $500 billion would hit the Pentagon.

Those cuts, starting in 2013, would be in addition to the $350 billion, 10-year reduction already dictated by the debt-limit bill approved by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama this month.

Not surprisingly, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has described the automatic cuts as the “doomsday mechanism.” He’s warned that the prospect of nearly $1 trillion in reductions over a decade would seriously undermine the military’s ability to protect the United States.

For the Pentagon, “we’re talking about cuts of such magnitude that everything is reduced to some degree,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a think tank. “At that rate, you’re eliminating the next generation of weapons.”

Committee members will face competing pressures as they try to produce a deficit-reducing plan.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a possible successor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton if Obama wins a second term, Sen. John Kerry is certain to be protective of the budget for the State Department.

Yet the Massachusetts Democrat, who recently said he would seek a sixth term in 2014, represents a state that was fifth in the nation with $8.37 billion in defense contracts this year, behind Virginia, California, Texas and Connecticut, according to data on the federal government’s website

In Tewksbury and Andover, Mass., deep defense cuts could have serious ramifications for thousands of Raytheon employees working on the Patriot, the air and missile defense system. It was heralded for its effectiveness during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and is now sold to close to a dozen nations, including South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates.

Whatever decisions Kerry and the committee make will affect Massachusetts-based Raytheon, which was fourth in defense contracts this year at $7.3 billion, behind Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Dynamics. Raytheon also has operations in Arizona, home to another committee member, Republican Sen. Jon Kyl.

“While some will argue there is peril in serving on this committee, we believe there is far greater peril in leaving these issues unaddressed,” Kerry said in a joint statement with Murray and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., after they were selected by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

In February, Murray celebrated when the Air Force ended a decade-long saga of delays and missteps and awarded one of the biggest defense contracts ever, a $35 billion deal to build nearly 200 air refueling tankers, to Boeing, a mainstay in her home state.

Boeing was fourth on the list of donors to Murray from 2007-2012, with its political action committee, individual employees and family members contributing $102,610.

Michigan is home to two committee members, Republican Reps. Dave Camp and Fred Upton, and General Dynamics work on the Abrams tank. The state is struggling with a 10.5 percent unemployment rate, which is above the national average.

Already facing the prospect of $350 billion in defense cuts over 10 years, the Pentagon could look to scale back some projects, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the stealthy aircraft that has been plagued by cost overruns and delays.

Lockheed Martin, in conjunction with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, is building 2,400 of the next generation fighter jet for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as working with eight foreign countries. But the cost of the program has jumped from $233 billion to $385 billion; some estimates suggest that it could top out at $1 trillion over 50 years.

Questioned about the defense cuts, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen recently said that “programs that can’t meet schedule, that can’t meet cost … requirements are very much in jeopardy and will be very much under scrutiny.”

The Joint Strike Fighter is being built in Fort Worth, Texas, and Palmdale and El Segundo, Calif. Those are the states of committee members Reps. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems also have operations in Pennsylvania.

The Pentagon could decide to scrap the program or scale it back while upgrading the existing F-15 and F-18 aircraft, a troubling prospect for lawmakers from the states that benefit from F-35 production.

In the military world, however, reducing the number could make it more costly.

“The problem when you cut back in numbers is you increase the number for one, you increase the cost for one,” said Laicie Olson, a senior policy analyst with Council for a Livable World and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “Sometimes it’s almost better to buy more.”

Boeing, in a statement, said it has been “anticipating flattening defense budgets for some time.” Company spokesman Daniel C. Beck said that while Boeing is trying to improve production and efficiency, it’s moving into new markets such as cybersecurity and energy management.

Officials review V-22 Ospreys

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Military and industry officials rave about the V-22 tiltrotor’s performance in Afghanistan but know they need to show the aircraft is worth its high price tag.

The Marine Corps are flying V-22 Ospreys in theater and “it’s more effective than we expected,” Maj. Gen. Jon Davis, Second Marine Corps Air Wing commander, told reporters here recently. “We have only scratched the surface with this aircraft. … “We’re doing things with the V-22 we did not plan to do.”

But there are questions in defense circles about whether — after years of technical delays and cost spikes —such glowing reviews will be enough to avoid future cuts as White House, Pentagon and congressional officials look for ways to trim the annual Defense budget.

Despite rave reviews from war fighters, the program is among the most expensive at the Pentagon. Each Osprey has a flyaway cost of $65 million. The Pentagon already has spent over $30 billion on the V-22 program, according to the Congressional Research Service. In its 2012 budget request, the Defense Department is seeking another $3 billion to buy Marine Corps and Air Force special-operations versions of the V-22.

The Pentagon intends to buy around 450. The majority would go to the Marine Corps, with the Air Force slated to buy around 50. Those kinds of cost figures lead many fiscal hawks to place the V-22, being built by Boeing and Bell Helicopter, on their lists of Defense programs that should be ended.

Marine Corps and Bell-Boeing officials also say to avoid budget cuts or a reduced buy, they will have to show critics like Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) that the fleet is reliable.

Woolsey dubbed the program a “boondoggle” for the “military-industrial complex.” Terminating the program would save more than $12 billion over 10 years, and $2.5 billion in 2012 alone, she claimed.

Right now, the Osprey’s closely monitored reliability rate in Afghanistan is around 73 percent, according to program officials. Davis wants to push that figure to 80 percent, saying that would make the V-22 among the military’s most reliable aircraft.

DOD and Bell-Boeing officials are working on plans to make the fleet more reliable.

Source: The Hill

V-22 Osprey surpasses 100,000 flight hours

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An MV-22B Osprey assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 prepares to launch aboard the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan in February.

The V-22 Joint Program Office announced that the V-22 Osprey surpassed 100,000 flight hours in February while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan

Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264 (VMM-264), currently operating out of Camp Bastion in Helmand Province supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, was the squadron that took the V-22 over the 100,000-hour mark.

The Osprey is giving combatant commanders unprecedented agility and operational reach,” said Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps.

“The revolutionary capability of the MV-22 will be a cornerstone of our Marine Air Ground Task Force. This aircraft is safe and survivable, and effective and efficient.”

“The V-22 is proven and forward deployed supporting combat operations and responding to contingency operations around the world,” said Marine Corps Col. Greg Masiello, head of the V-22 Joint Program Office at the Naval Air Systems Command.

The revolutionary V-22 Osprey is a joint service, multi-role combat aircraft using tiltrotor technology to combine the vertical performance of a helicopter with the speed and range of a fixed wing aircraft. With its nacelles and rotors in vertical position, it can take off, land and hover like a helicopter. Once airborne, its nacelles can be rotated to transition the aircraft to a turboprop airplane capable of high-speed, high-altitude flight.

“We are only beginning to use Ospreys, bringing unprecedented range, speed and survivability to the warfighter,” Masiello said. “V-22s will continue to excel in combat, and remain ready, effective and survivable.”

The V-22 Osprey is produced under a strategic alliance between Bell Helicopter and Boeing. The current V-22 Osprey program of record calls for 360 aircraft for the U.S. Marine Corps, 50 for the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, and 48 for the Navy.