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DoD News Briefing with Gen. Conway from the Pentagon

Presenters: Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Conway and Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. John Castellaw
April 13, 2007 11:00 AM EDT
            GEN. CONWAY: Good morning. I'd like to thank you all for taking time to share in what is truly a historic day for your Marine Corps. It's my pleasure to announce that the Marines VMM-263, the world's first tiltrotor squadron, will also be the first to take the MV-22 Osprey into combat. These hardworking professionals in a remarkable aircraft will deploy to al Asad, Iraq in September of this year. This deployment directly supports our Corps number one priority: the Marines and sailors in contact at the tip of the spear.
 
            The story of how we got here as been a long one, and I'll leave it to you to recount that history. I'll just say that the quantum leap in technology that this aircraft will bring to the fight has been a road marked by some setbacks, lots of sacrifices and the success of these Marines standing before you today.
 
            This is a great day for our Corps and for my aviation folks, in particular. Before I turn the program over to our deputy commandant for Aviation, Lieutenant General John Castellaw, I ask that as you make your way down to Quantico today aboard those CH-46s outside, that you make some mental notes so that you can compare and contrast our oldest rotor wing platform to its replacement, the Osprey. You'll soon see why we're so excited about the V-22.
 
            Thank you, folks. Enjoy your flights today.
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: As the commandant indicated, we'll be deploying VMM-263, the first tactical tiltrotor squadron, combat squadron to Iraq in September of this year. We've gone through a very deliberate process to ensure that operationally, logistically that the squadron and the aircraft is ready to deploy. It's been through extensive operational testing and evaluation, and it is our fervent feeling that this aircraft is the most capable, survivable aircraft that we carry our most important weapons system in, which is the Marine riflemen, and that we will successfully introduce this aircraft in combat.
 
            With that, I'm ready to take any question that you might ask.
 
            Rick.
 
            Q     General Castellaw, what difference exactly do you think the V-22 will make in Iraq? I mean, could you describe some of the missions it might fly and how it'll change them?
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: First of all, you know, the primary troop assault aircraft now is the CH-46. It's almost 40 years old. It was introduced in the middle of Vietnam. The aircraft is old in the tooth, and its capability in terms of range and payload is not what we want. So we have been developing the V-22 as its replacement, again, to survive in a combat environment. This aircraft from the very beginning, from the time we put the first piece on the deck, was held to stringent combat characteristics and requirements.
 
            So what we have is an aircraft that goes twice as fast. It goes three times as far, and it is the most survivable, about six or seven times of what the aircraft that it replaces is. On a mission, it can be at 200-plus knots in 15 seconds climbing the altitude. Fixed-wing use altitude as an area to get outside of the range of missiles and fire -- small-arms fire. We'll be able to do the same thing with this aircraft to get above the threat.
 
            Yes, ma'am.
 
            Q     Can you talk a little bit about the threat over there? How many CH-46s have been lost in enemy action or down for maintenance? And are you doing a one-for-one replacement of CH-46s with the MV-22 -- (off mike).
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: We have had seven aircraft that have been destroyed in combat operations. We've had others that have been damaged, but seven have been destroyed.
 
            The V-22 will be able to, again, fly above the threat. It also has all the survivability equipment that's required. It has missile warning systems, it has self-defense weapons, it has radar warning systems, it has ability to expend flares. The IR on the engine is suppressed, and then, combine that with tactics and techniques and procedures that we're able to accomplish with the capabilities of this aircraft, make it a survivability that we have to have.
 
            Yes, sir.
 
            Q     You said it was six or seven times more survivable. I was wondering what metric you used, comparison of survivability with this and the CH-46s.
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: It's a combination of metrics. First of all, our signature is lower. The acoustic signature is lower. It flies faster and it flies higher. And then if it were to be hit, it was designed from the beginning to absorb hits from weapons. So all this comes together to give it its survivability quotient. 
 
            Yes, sir. 
 
            Q     Some skeptics of this aircraft have said that its main vulnerability is when it comes into the landing zone, it doesn't have the maneuverability that a helicopter has. Could you address that question? That's said to be its main weakness. 
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: I fly the V-22, and I have taken it and used it in a tactical manner, how we would employ it. We can come out and descend at 6,000 feet-per-minute in fixed-wing mode. We can skim along the ground at 240 knots. And then within a fairly short distance from the landing zone where we're going to insert the troops or extract them, then we start the transition to the helicopter mode. 
 
            The aircraft, once in helicopter mode, is powerful and agile. It is at least as good getting in the zone and I think better, again from personal experience, than the 46 is. So the ability to maneuver this aircraft is far in excess of what we have with the existing helicopters. 
 
            Yes, sir. 
 
            Q     (Name inaudible) -- McClatchy newspapers. 
 
            Could you describe the missions that it will be performing over there? 
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: The V-22 is a medium-assault tiltrotor. What it's primary mission is to take Marines into combat. It has the capability to carry 24 personnel, combat-loaded Marines. Externally, it can lift 10,000 pounds. Internally, you can trade off gas or whatever in order not to exceed the max gross weight, but you can put up to 20,000 pounds inside the aircraft. So it will carry packs, cargo. It will do also 12 litters in terms of evacuations, medically if required. So it is a real utilitarian aircraft that we will use for a variety of individual missions that are under the overall helicopter assault, tiltrotor type. 
 
            Yes, sir?
 
            Q     Sir, what does the aircraft require in terms of maintenance, as opposed to the 46 or the 53, I mean ground time as opposed to flying time.
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: Right now we're still in the process of collecting that data. In terms of flight operations, right now it's between some of the less sophisticated aircraft and the 53. The 53 right now takes about 40 man hours to every flight hour. The V-22 initial data we have, it's a fraction of that.
 
            Yes, sir?
 
            Q     What will be the self-defense weapons that you'll put on these in Iraq?
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: First of all, it has missile warning systems on the aircraft to identify MANPADS missiles. It also has systems that identify lasers as well as radars. In terms of other self-defense systems, it has a gun that's mounted on it. And like we do with all our other aircraft, we'll fly in formation. When we fly, the tactics are such that you cover each other when you fly in a zone. Also, we routinely provide additional assets, such as attack helicopters and fixed wing to provide additional support and suppression, should that be required.
 
            Yes, sir?
 
            Q     Can you give us a sense of what protections the chopper has to avoid -- or at least warn the pilots when they get into a vortex ring state -- the cause of the April 2000 flight -- the -- (inaudible) -- that killed 20 Marines. What's the improvement, for those who haven't followed this?
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: Well, the first thing is -- and by the way, when you're in a helicopter mode, you get the same restrictions that I have when I fly a 46. This situation is caused by descending at a low air speed at a high rate of descent when under a lot of power. You don't want to do that in a helicopter and you do not want to do that in a tiltrotor. And we don't have to do it in a tiltrotor. I told you originally that one of the tactics in coming into the zone was come down at 6,000 feet per minute rate of descent. And we do that in the fixed-wing mode. We do not intend to routinely use this aircraft and come out of a high altitude in the helicopter mode. 
 
            So we will come out at 240 knots, you know, up to 6,000 feet per minute rate of descent, get down to 200 feet and approach the zone and then do the transition to the helicopter mode. And with that, we will avoid -- rightly so, because that's a better tactic to use in combat -- being in that position.
 
            If we were, for whatever reason, to be in a helicopter mode and want to come down at a slow rate of descent and at low air speed, then the aircraft has a better capability of flying out of that state than a helicopter does. All you have to do is move the nacelles about 15 degrees, and what you do is you change the thrust of the airflow from going straight down, where you're descending in the bubble, to where it's behind you, and you fly out of it.
 
            In a helicopter, what you have to do, if you got enough altitude remaining, is put the nose down, which is -- helicopter guys don't like to do -- and lower the power, which they like to do even less, and try to fly out of it. So with a V-22, you get out of it faster and easier than you do in a helicopter. But the first thing we're going to do is -- that right now is not really part of our normal tactics in using these aircraft.
 
            Q     Tactical adjustments, basically, versus any kind of materiel or software adjustments, to avoid this --
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: We have a warning system on this aircraft. If you're in that -- get close to that particular regime, it tells you. But you know, the tactics that we are going to use are going to minimize the requirement or the need to be in that regime.
 
            Yes, sir?
 
            Q     Sir, you may have said it and I missed it, but what's the replacement schedule for the 46? And what is that current schedule? And do you expect to meet that production decision?
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: We're operating five V-22 squadrons now. We have one VMX-22, which is the operational and test squadron. We have VMMT-204, which is the training squadron. And then we have the three tactical squadrons, 263, 162 and 266. What we intend to do is reach a transition schedule of two squadrons per year, and we expect to achieve that in about a year or so, get to that particular rate of two squadrons a year.
 
            Q     When do the last 46 leave the fleet?
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: Well, it'll be after I'm gone, around 2018.
 
            Yes, sir.
 
            Q     Sir, can I ask you, how many 22s are in the squadron? And what fraction will this squadron represent to the total airlift capacity you're going to have in Anbar?
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: The numbers of airplanes in the squadrons depend on the type of squadron. We got about four aircraft in VMX-22, and that moves up and down, depending on what level of testing that we need to do. We have been 20 and 29 aircraft in VMMT-204, and again, that depends on what level of training we've got going through there. And then the tactical squadrons, we'll maintain between 10 and 12, depending on what the particular mission is and where it's going and to any particular time.
 
            Q     And what will that be in your airlift capacity?
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: It will constitute about a third of the medium-lift assets available to Marines in Iraq.
 
            Yes, sir.
 
            Q     Eric Weiner, (TBS ?). Do you have plans to deploy this aircraft, this new aircraft in Okinawa or other Pacific theaters?
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: Eventually we will replace the squadrons that are currently located in the Pacific with V-22s, the CH-46 squadrons; exactly where they're going to be located -- we're in a review right now of that, so I could not tell you with preciseness exactly where the V-22 squadrons are going to end up in the Pacific.
 
            Yes, ma'am.
 
            Q     What have you done to test them against the desert conditions they'll experience in Iraq, the sand and the arid conditions?
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: The squadron that's deploying, VMM-263, has been out west to the desert twice. They're going to go again. We have what we call Mojave Viper; it is a continuing exercise. It prepares not only aviation but the ground forces for deployment to Iraq. It will go through Mojave Viper. We also have what we call Desert Talon, which is conducted -- Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-One, MAWTS-1, which also is located in Yuma, Arizona, and it's a lot of dust out there. So we have put this aircraft, not only during its operational and developmental testing in that environment, but we continue to train with that for the squadrons that are going to deploy.
 
            Back in the back.
 
            Q     Is this aircraft difficult to learn to fly?
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: Well, I'll tell you, it's most difficult for us old codgers to do it. Helicopter guys are used to up and down with a collective and the cyclic. With the V-22, we have a thrust control lever, and to go fast you push it forward, and to go slow or go down you push it back. And instead of just having two things, you have a third one, which is a rocker switch that moves the nacelles. Once you learn to incorporate the rocker switch and the other two movements, you got it waxed. 
 
            I found -- and I have talked to other old guys like me who have flown it, that all you have to do is introduce one significant emotional event when you're down low by going the wrong way, and after that you're fixed. (Laughter.)
 
            Yes, ma'am?
 
            Q     Thank you, sir. I was wondering if politics was at all a consideration in your choice, perhaps the visibility that this aircraft will have in Iraq versus in Africa and how that will affect, you know, successful missions and also missions that turn out like you want?
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: You know, I was walking down the hall and the J3 of the Joint Staff, Doug Luke (sp), asked me, "Hey, when can we have this aircraft in Afghanistan?" I've had another one ask me, "When can we have this aircraft in the Horn of Africa?" Still others want it in the Western Pacific. 
 
            I think you've seen the commandant on numerous times say that his objective is to provide the best equipment available to those Marines that are in the greatest need. And right now, after we've done the evaluation, done the troop to task evaluation, it is our view that the V-22 right now can do the greatest amount of support in Iraq. As soon as we get the other squadrons transitioned, we'll be putting them aboard ships where they will operate routinely, and we will deploy them to other locations. And it may be as we go through here and things continue to improve in West Anbar and other locations that we may move this aircraft around. It can fly 900 miles un-refueled. It has the capability to be aerial refueled. It can go to any location within Iraq from the place that we're going to put it without being refueled. So you have a mobile capability here that we can put -- in its expeditionary nature -- to where we need it. And I'm sure that operational forces will be able to utilize that capability. 
 
            Q     Thank you. 
 
            Do you have any big questions on how it will perform on those ships? 
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: I'll get back to you. 
 
            Q     Thank you. 
 
            Q     Point of clarification on a previous question -- are you confident that this aircraft is going to be able to better survive the threats that have brought down helicopters in recent months in Iraq? 
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: Yes. Going back to it again, it's twice as fast, going 240 knots. If you've ever gone rabbit-hunting, you know that it's harder to shoot a rabbit that's running than the one that's sitting still. (Laughter.) 
 
            When you're talking about the ability to climb to altitude outside the heart of the threat over there, and fly above it, then you avoid it. You can plan for coming down into the particular area that you're going to operate at a lower altitude with, by having coordinated assets to support you there, and I'm talking about the gunships, whether we're talking about fixed-wing or rotary wing. And so that will allow us to reduce the time that our Marine sailors -- and we'll fly soldiers and airmen and whoever else that needs to be moved to -- that will reduce the time that they're exposed to the threat. 
 
            Yes, ma'am, I'll get back to you. 
 
            Q     Oh, I appreciate you coming back. 
 
            I just wanted to follow up on the ship question, if you had any lingering questions about how it would perform on a ship. 
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: It's going to perform well. We've done exhaustive tests aboard ships. Within the last few months, we've been out on some of the support ships that have small platforms, landing platforms, and fairly austere. So we continue to expand the numbers of ships and all that it can operate on. And so we feel real comfortable with its ability to operate in the maritime environment. 
 
            Yes, ma'am. 
 
            Q     Sir, what is the simplest way that you can explain the problems that led to the crashes that were so high-profile the last few years, and how those have been fixed? 
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: The one that we talked about earlier on was the vortex ring state. That's -- so helicopter pilots call it power settling, because you're flying at a low air speed, fairly high altitude, and you got a lot of power on the aircraft. So essentially, if I can try to use my hands, is -- you're almost coming down vertically.
 
            When that happens, particularly as in the case at Mariana, when your tailwind -- what that does is keep the turbulence under you. And as that turbulence increases and your power increases, your blades start to stall out from the center out, and you get a column of air that comes up through it. And eventually the blades complete the stall, and the aircraft becomes uncontrollable.
 
            Now, what we will do -- and this -- that particular aircraft started out at 2,000 feet -- we do not expect to descend from 2,000 feet in a helicopter mode. We'll be in the fixed-wing mode. We'll avoid that.
 
            If we -- for whatever reason, we have to do that, and we're in that, as I said, take that little thumb, which is the very important appendage to a V-22 guy, and you push it forward 15 degrees and you fly out of it almost instantaneously and recover.
 
            So that process is what we are teaching in simulators. Everybody has a dedicated simulator flight that shows you how to do that, shows those conditions to you and allows you to understand them, feel them and then fly out of them.
 
            We also have a warning system that says when you reach those parameters, 800 feet per minute rate of descent and 40 knots or below, you know, hey, you're stupid, you're stupid; fly out of it. (Soft laughter.) And you do that. Okay? So that will happen.
 
            On the one at New River, what was happening is, as there's a -- you know, like a(n) easy button -- I don't know -- Radio Shack or whatever -- you know, the easy button -- well, on the aircraft, you have a reset button for the flight control system. What happened at New River was -- is that there was a software flaw in there that every time you hit that button, it caused the props to come back to zero pitch. Okay. And when that happened, because we also had an associated hydraulic failure, one of the props was moving at a slower rate than the other.
 
            And so every time you did the easy button and reset it, then you had put a yaw into the airplane and a deceleration, and eventually, it was in airplane mode, the aircraft stalled. And when it stalled, then it hit the terrain. Since then, we've reworked the hydraulic system, we've reworked the software, we've rerouted hydraulic lines, and we have addressed those issues that we discovered. And then, in addition to that, as a part of the training, people now ensure that you have a better understanding of as you do these particular things and these procedures and what impact you're having on the airplane.
 
            So we're very confident that in both of these situations we've identified what the issues were, and either through a combination of mechanical software, training, that we have addressed those issues and that the -- that those are no longer problems that -- with the airplane.
 
            Yes, ma'am.
 
            STAFF: Excuse me. Pam, this will be the last question.
 
            Q     Clarify on the seven aircraft. Were they all 46s?
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: (Off mike.)
 
            Q     Okay. And how many Marines did you lose in (that ?) combat?
 
            GEN. CASTELLAW: I'm not going to talk about that.
 
            Thank you very much. I've enjoyed talking with you. And again, a big day for the Marine Corps, and I think a big day for those Marines that are in harm's way.
 
            Thank you much.
 
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