Aldridge Discusses Marines' V-22, Army Crusader
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 2, 2002 Undersecretary of Defense Pete Aldridge is satisfied with flight-testing proposed for the Marines' V-22 Osprey, although he remains a skeptic about the aircraft.
Aldridge, undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, also said the department was looking at options to replace the Army's Crusader artillery system.
The undersecretary said he reviewed the Navy's comprehensive flight test program "that will prove, or not, the reliability, safety and operational suitability of the V-22." Aldridge said the program is an "event-driven" series of tests and not schedule-driven. The tilt-rotor transport aircraft must pass early tests before moving on to more complicated tests.
The first flight for the program is set for May 9. Aldridge said the program addresses concerns raised by a DoD blue- ribbon panel and a NASA report on the aircraft. The tests will cover some of the main issues with the aircraft including its hover characteristics, high-rate-of-descent performance and vortex-ring state. The last contributed to the crash of a V-22 in Arizona that killed 18 Marines in April 1999.
The tests will also look at the operational suitability of the aircraft. Aldridge said the Navy and Marine Corps will look at whether the V-22 would operate well off the deck of a ship, whether there are landing zone considerations like dust and debris -- and whether it would be dangerous to fly in such environments.
Some problems need to be explained, he said. For instance, the Osprey's hover performance predictions turned out to be different from what the aircraft actually does. "I'd like to know why that occurred," he said. "Is there something wrong with the aerodynamics?"
With all that Aldridge remains skeptical about tilt-rotor technology. "I think there's a lot of uncertainties we don't know about," he said. "The flight test program will prove or disprove whether my concerns are valid. The commandant of the Marine Corps concurs and he is going to watch that, and we're still looking at alternatives (on the V-22) just to be sure."
Aldridge said he will keep an open mind about the aircraft, "I think there are some problems with the V-22 and the best way to find those out is put it back in the flight test program and wring it out," he said. "If it's successful, I will give it my full blessing."
On the Crusader artillery system, Aldridge acknowledged critics who maintain it's too big and heavy for the lighter, more mobile Army of the future. He said the Army has 30 days to draw a plan offering capable alternates to the Crusader.
"The battlefield of the future will be represented by very precise target location, digital terrain mapping and very precise weapon delivery," he said. What's best for the Army may be for the service to "get precision weapons faster. (We need to) get the Army moving toward more mobility, lethality, deployability, which is what they are doing with the Future Combat System."
The Crusader program would cost more than $9 billion. "If you think about it, $9 billion is taking money away from things that could be used to get the Army toward more precision, more lethality and more mobility," he said.
The issue, he said, is whether DoD should fund the Crusader or use the $9 billion "to move the Army toward this new technology at a faster pace. The secretary of defense has to balance (those alternatives). He's asked the Army to provide that balance for him."