GEN. TRAUTMAN: Well, good morning, everybody, and thanks for coming. I really do appreciate it. I brought a fine team of Marines here, with me, who have just returned from the first V-22 deployment to Iraq.
I'll introduce the folks seated on my left in a minute. But a good squadron commander never goes anywhere without his sergeant major, so we have Sergeant Major Van Oostrom over here as well. And although we didn't have room at the table, if you have questions for him, he can pop up and speak as well. He's a valued, valued member of the team.
You know, I'd like to start by just saying how proud we are of the Marines, from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263, that took on the challenging task of being the first combat deployment for the Osprey.
It's been a long, long history, as you all well know. But the commandant about a year ago clearly made the right decision, to send this airplane into combat, so that our warriors forward could have the best assault support helicopter, assault support aircraft, I should say, ever made for war fighting purposes.
And under Colonel Rock's expert leadership, they went forward and they did their job and spent seven months deployed and came back safely and did every single mission that they were asked to do.
When they departed in September, we decided to take a relatively low public affairs stance. We did that for a good reason. We wanted to let performance be our guide, and not over aggrandize or prejudge how things were going to go.
We had a lot of confidence. We've had a lot of confidence for quite a while, and that confidence was fulfilled. And that's what brings us here this morning.
To my left is Lieutenant Colonel Paul Rock. He's a former CH-46 helicopter pilot. So he has experience in the airplane that the V-22 is replacing. And he's been flying the V-22 for about 11 years. He has over 1,500 hours in the airplane.
And he returned from Iraq last week and promptly gave up his squadron to another outstanding lieutenant colonel.
And so now he's here in the building helping us continue the journey of learning about this airplane and how we can even do better in the future.
To his left is Captain Sara Faibisoff. She's a Naval Academy graduate. What she brings to the team is a perspective of a pilot who has never flown anything else other than the flight school -- she flew the flight school airplanes, and then when she came to the fleet operating forces, she went right into the V-22. And Sara has a great story about a Christmas Day medvac mission that actually received a little bit of media attention that -- if we get a chance today, I'd like to make sure she gets a chance to tell you that story, because it's a very good story.
At the end of the table is Sergeant Danny Herrman. Sergeant Herrman also brings a good perspective here because he's done two combat deployments with this squadron. The first combat deployment he did in the CH-46, and then the second deployment he did in the V-22. So he also can bring forward a good perspective from the aerial gunner perspective or the crew chief in the back, who really does run the back of these airplanes. And I encourage you to ask Sergeant Herrman for his perspective as well.
I want to open the floor to questions in a minute, but you know, before I close my remarks, I want to refer back to something Lieutenant Colonel Rock and I talked about a few months ago when I visited him in Iraq on Thanksgiving Day. As Colonel Rock said, you know, everybody's intently focused on what we're doing, but -- this is a test, but it's not the final exam.
And he couldn't have said it more appropriately, in that we're on a journey to exploit a new and revolutionary technology. And we're going to continue to learn lessons, and we're going to continue to improve and continue to work hard to exploit the capabilities this airplane brings.
So although we're coming here today to talk with you because the commandant said we'd come talk to you after the first deployment, I don't want anybody to think that this is end of a journey. This is very much just the beginning. And I anticipate in the coming years and decades, as Air Force Special Operations Command and others see the utility of this airplane, it's just going to become more and more valuable across the board.
So with that, let me introduce Colonel Rock and let him say a few words from his perspective about the deployment that he just completed.
COL. PAUL ROCK: Thank you, General.
And good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am Lieutenant Colonel Paul Rock. And I apologize for my voice; one of the great things about coming back from deployment is, you normally catch a cold within the first week. And I'm making that happen.
But it was my honor and privilege to be the commanding officer of Marine Medium Tiltroter Squadron 263 from its redesignation. It was formerly -- Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 was redesignated and reequipped with the V-22 on the 3rd of March in 2006. On that date, everyone joined the squadron, basically. We didn't own any airplanes yet, and that was the commencement of an 18-month period of training, taking airplanes, accepting aircraft, coming together as a staff and a unit, and learning how to do business.
That 18-month training program, again, encompassed everything from coming together as a unit in our first flight to the graduation exercise that Headquarters Marine Corps directs -- the Desert Talon exercise held in Southwestern United States, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma for every unit -- every aviation unit it's going to deploy to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
After that 18 months, we had -- the Marines had done a lot of learning. They were well-prepared, and we were ready. We deployed to Iraq on the 17th of September aboard the USS Wasp.
We transited -- it's an amphibious assault ship. We transited across the Atlantic through the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, into the Gulf of Aqaba, flew off through Jordan and into Iraq.
Our final -- our base there in Iraq was al Asad, which, for those not familiar, is -- it's a rather large base. It's about a hundred miles or so west, northwest of Baghdad. And that is where we remained and operated from during the course of the deployment.
During that transit, we continued our training. We had a well- trained squadron. We continued our training and our preparation, because we knew as soon as we came off that ship, that every mission over there is a combat mission.
We got to Iraq. We relieved the unit that was there before us, a helicopter squadron, and commenced our ownership of the mission on the 21st of October. And from there it was just -- it was wide open.
And I have to say, just personally, I was, you know, holding a little part of my -- you know, part of my brain there was half- expecting to come over there and perhaps have someone say, because of the visibility of the aircraft and the deployment, everything, that we'd be put in a corner and told, you know, kind of -- you know, "Play with your toy" and not do much.
But I'm happy to report -- and it was very satisfying, personally and professionally, for myself and all my Marines, that one of the things about being in a combat environment is, folks just don't have the opportunity to entertain that kind of agenda. They post to work immediately. We did the full spectrum of what the aircraft was meant to do -- medium lift assault support, as the Marine Corps calls it. We flew raid operations. We conducted a -- operations that was -- that is peculiar to Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Marine sector there, called Aeroscout, which is -- basically think of it as armed rotary-wing reconnaissance, fixed-wing reconnaissance with a Quick Reaction Force airborne or on alert on the ground. We conducted tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel alert, casualty evacuation alerts. And again, we can -- be happy to talk about that.
We also conducted -- the overwhelming majority of what we did was what's referred to as general support or battlefield circulation. And again, it's kind of -- you know, it's one of the main things that you do with the aircraft over there. That's taking people, gear, combat equipment, whatever it is, all over the battle space. It is a large area. And that's what we spent a lot of time doing. And it's something that we applied the aircraft and unit capabilities to, to try to do better. And I believe we did.
We just got back, as the General mentioned, last week, and I'm very proud of my Marines and sailors in 263 and what they did.
I'm proud of what the airplane -- the aircraft's performance.
As the general mentioned, I've been associated with/working on the V-22 for quite some time. I do have some personal history with it. And so it was very satisfying to see how well it performed and also just to see the reactions of the people that we supported -- Marines, sailors, airmen, civilians, just everyone we carried over there. It was very gratifying. Got a lot of positive feedback from them. And myself or my Marines are happy to answer any questions.
Q General, I'd like to ask you a question. You mentioned that this deployment was just the beginning. I'd like to ask you to look ahead a little bit, if you would, for a minute, at least. What sort of role do you think the Osprey would or could play in Afghanistan, in the near term?
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Yeah, we've taken a long, long, hard look at that, and it will be a very effective airplane in that environment. As you know, we're still very much engaged in a large way in Iraq. And so the second deployment of VMM-162 to replace Colonel Rock's squadron has gone to Iraq.
In Afghanistan now, we have a marine expeditionary unit, and their central air combat element is the CH-46 squadron. As time goes on, if someone -- the president, the secretary -- makes a decision to increase the presence of the Marines there -- and that decision has not been made, but if it were made, we would take a hard look at increasing the size of the aviation combat element, and part of that assessment would include the V-22.
Q Right now you couldn't do it because you don't have that -- you're not organized to have additional deployments?
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Well, we have three squadrons. This squadron just came back. We've got one squadron in Iraq. And the next squadron is preparing to go somewhere. Right now they're preparing to go to Iraq. Should the president or the secretary decide to send them somewhere else, they'll go somewhere else.
Q But what about how the V-22 would perform in the terrain of Afghanistan? And one of the challenges of operating helicopters there is the altitudes and the thin air. And also, could you just -- well, go ahead and answer that question. I'll just --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Well, I think it would perform better, but let me ask Colonel Rock to talk about the performance, because he's much more adept at that, you know, with 11 years in the airplane, than I am with like 10 hours in the airplane.
COL. ROCK: Sir, as far as the performance of the aircraft, I mean, nothing that has rotors on it, in one form or function, is as efficient at higher elevations as it is at sea level. I mean, you know, absolutely, the air is thinner. And like any other aircraft, any rotorcraft or anything, like a tilt rotor, that's got a -- got some rotorcraft heritage in it, I suppose you could say -- I mean, the aircraft is -- has a lower -- would have lower performance at higher altitudes. I mean, it's an inescapable fact.
However, one of the things that is worth noting is, we spend the majority of our time -- we're acting as a rotorcraft in -- basically on -- in a close proximity to a terminal objective area, basically going in to take off or land. We spend an overwhelming amount of our time in what we call airplane mode, with the propellers down. And in that case, you're flying basically as an airplane, and you're really free of the aerodynamic issues and restrictions that would affect rotorcraft at those kind of altitudes.
Q Yeah. I guess I'm just asking pretty much in sort of layman's terms, for the average person who thinks about, you know, what you faced in Iraq, and if you take that airplane and adapt it to the way the United States and NATO are conducting operations in Afghanistan, where the terrain and the challenge is different, I'm just asking basically how well-suited is the V-22 for that mission compared to the Iraq mission?
GEN. TRAUTMAN: From my perspective, and in layman's terms, much better than the CH-46 that it's replacing. So the only reason that I'm satisfied with the CH-46s right now is because (they placed ?) the Marine Expeditionary Unit that has those in the southern part of Afghanistan, where altitudes top out, I think, around 5(,000) to 7,000 feet and most of the operating areas are below 3,000 feet. So the CH- 46 is quite capable there. If we were going to move to a broader part of the battle space in Afghanistan, I would want to see the V-22 to be there because it has a much better operational capability than the CH- 46 that it's replacing.
Q Can you just say generally what you've learned from this deployment to Iraq about -- considering some of the criticism before the plane went over, the idea that the V-22 might be more unforgiving to fly? And again, maybe one of the pilots might want to talk about this. Or, you know, how did it perform compared to some of the criticism that critics have leveled against it before it actually (reported ?)
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Right. Most of the critics are just plain wrong in many of the things that they say. I mean, I'll just leave it at that. Either Sara or Paul, you want to talk about the actual performance of the airplane?
CAPT. FAIBISOFF: Much of the criticisms that we heard, either before we left or while we were on our way over there, were things that were, you know, research and during the developmental phase. It's an operational aircraft now and it works absolutely wonderfully.
Q Well, for instance, one of the things that they said was you're transitioning from airplane from helicopter mode and you're sort of -- that sophisticated operation and all the computers that are required to execute that make the plane a little more vulnerable, a little harder to fly, a little less forgiving for a pilot if a pilot makes a mistake. What's your real-life experience? What can you tell us about what it's really like to fly that plane?
CAPT. FAIBISOFF: I haven't flown any other aircraft, as the general said, so I can't really tell you how it compares to another aircraft. But for me, it's very easy. You know, it's the same thing with anything; you have to learn how to do it. And we have a great simulator, and so I used the simulator, the first 10 flights are in a simulator, and then you get into the aircraft and it's like you know what you're doing. I mean, it's easy. It's a non-event.
GEN. TRAUTMAN (?): (Off mike) -- stay on that. As someone who has 1,500 hours in two different type model series, just compare and contrast the 46 and the V-22 if you would, Paul.
COL. ROCK: That particular regime, the very nature of the aircraft, it's software driven. And the way the aircraft software is written, it makes that whole evolution relatively seamless. I mean, as the captain referred to, we have an excellent training program. I used to instruct -- as a reference, I used to instruct folks in flying the CH-46, and they had a very old simulator. And I instructed in the CH-46 and then I instructed in the V-22, and the comparison was amazing.
I used to take a perverse enjoyment out of somebody's first flight, training flight, first time in a 46, because the simulator did such a poor job of preparing them, once the rotor started spinning and things started happening, you know, half the people would just lock up. I mean, they were so excited and so -- you know. The V-22, the simulator does such a good job of preparing you, you get a Marine in the aircraft the first time, they're starting the airplane, they're taxiing out, they're doing, you know, 80 percent of the maneuvers you'd have them do anyway. And even though it's different, it becomes very natural. I mean, it's just kind of this is how you fly the airplane.
Q Stay with the comparison for a second, sir. How did it compare in the maintenance portion of it? The V-22 allegedly took more hours to maintain per flight hour. Can you discuss that?
COL. ROCK: Actually, sir, we took about nine and a half maintenance man hours per flight hour, which is significantly lower than a CH-46.
Q What is it for a 46, typically?
COL. ROCK: I don't know the exact --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: About 24.
COL. ROCK: Thank you, General.
GEN. TRAUTMAN: That's why I shook my head.
I apologize for reacting that way. But it's about 300 percent more than the 46, yet people say it takes more man-hours. It's interesting, isn't it?
Q And the flight availability during your tour?
COL. ROCK: We averaged -- the squadron deployed with 10 aircraft. And we averaged, on any given day, about 7 aircraft, mission-ready. And that was more than sufficient to meet our daily task.
Q Speaking of comparisons, folks, the 263rd went with CH-46s the time before this. And this time, it went with 22s.
What's the respective cost of each of those deployments?
COL. ROCK: Any other questions?
Q Can we expand on that a little bit?
I mean, value implies a knowledge about cost.
COL. ROCK: I don't know the cost. They don't know the cost. That's not --
Q (Off mike) -- flight hours?
COL. ROCK: I can get it for you if you want it. But I don't have it with me today.
Q How much contractor support did you have onsite?
COL. ROCK: We took with us three field service representatives, as they're referred to, or tech reps, as you might also want to call them; two who are -- they are contractor types who have general kind of overview of the entire aircraft; and one guy whose specialty -- he was from Rolls Royce.
And we also took a dozen contract maintenance support. Those were contractors who came -- they deployed with the squadron and they were sort of -- you could think of them as a jack-of-all-trades. They were not even remotely required at that organizational level for our daily execution and maintenance.
But they were there as a buffer, because there was very limited higher-level maintenance capability in Iraq, for the V-22 at that time, although it developed through the deployment. And they were there just kind of as a buffer, to pick up on that capability if needed. And they also conduct the modifications in theater as required as they came.
Q Did you have to make any special arrangements for getting spares from CONUS in theater, just to maintain the readiness level?
COL. ROCK: We utilized the same procedures, the same processes throughout the deployment to get parts. I mean, there was no, you know, they didn't frag the space shuttle to drop them out at -- (inaudible) -- or overboard or something just for the V-22. I mean, you know, we're in Iraq, and there's only certain ways to get to Iraq. And so we got parts just like everybody else.
Q (Off mike) -- learning curve at the beginning on what parts you had to replace, what wore out early. Talk about that initial learning curve and the adjustments you had to make at the beginning to keep the airplanes flying.
COL. ROCK: Actually -- and that's really, I believe, sir, a testament to the fact that the Marine Corps is a learner organization.
And the Marines are -- you know, everybody should be very proud of the performance of the Marines over there.
Before you deploy to something like seven months in combat in a desert environment, I mean, you have analysis, and you can try to extrapolate from what you did in the continental United States, but there's -- you know, there's nothing like being over there. We brought over a significant pack-up of parts and whatnot, and we were as well-trained as we thought we could be going over there, but absolutely, you know, we ran into things that, you know, we weren't necessarily expecting. And when that happened, you know, all the folks involved, both at the squadron level and those that supported us back in the continental United States and supported us forward, you know, that -- and it's not just something that you do for the V-22, they do it for any forward deployed unit. You know, they get into motion and make it happen.
Q (Off mike) --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: (Before ?) on that level -- you're probably -- he's probably talking about the slip ring issue.
COL. ROCK: Okay. All right. Yes, sir. And I didn't want any --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: That's where we had a degradation in readiness early on. Just lay it out.
COL. ROCK: Just -- a real good example is, early on in deployment, a slip ring is -- you can think of it as a distributor, an electrical distributor for the rotor, for the prop rotor. And it distributes electricity to the sensors in the prop rotor. We had about three weeks to a month in the deployment -- you took a bunch of aircraft that were similar in age, similar amount of airframe time, took them into this harsh environment, and we were flying the (pudding) out of them. And you know, when something breaks -- unfortunately, because they're the same age, sometimes we saw multiple local aircraft with a similar discrepancy. The slip ring a real good example of that.
When that happened -- and it was very difficult to troubleshoot initially because, you know, you couldn't tell if it was the sensor or the slip ring. Well, when this started to happen, multiple elements of the enterprise that supports us kind of swings into action -- you know, the logisticians back home, you know, finding more slip rings to send us forward. The fleet support team, the naval aviation engineers, they sent a couple of folks out to get a look at the slip rings and figure out, you know, what was it about the environment that was affecting them.
And meanwhile, you know, I'm very proud of my Marines because, you know, they learned how to deal with it and to do it better. I mean, I gave a Navy commendation medal to a sergeant who, you know, the Marine was so -- you know, so sharp, he figured out a way to troubleshoot this particular discrepancy that, by the manual that when you received and we took with us, took 45 hours. He figured out a way to do it in nine hours, you know. So it's all elements of the organization kind of learning, dealing with the unknown unknowns. And you know, we reacted from it, and they weren't an issue for us after that.
Q If I can -- (off mike) -- V-22 in development. You know, there was some apprehension among other Marines about flying it. You and the crewmen and the people -- and the Marines that you had take on board during -- your passengers -- did you experience any of that? And did you see any adjustments in attitude during the year -- the time you were over in Iraq?
SGT. DANNY HERRMAN: Sir, yeah, there was a lot of skepticism before we went on this deployment, and just the 18 months working up to it. But over there, we've hauled, you know, Marines, sailors, civilians, and I got a lot of good feedback from them, just the Marines and sailors coming off and on the aircraft, excited to fly it. And you know, they're glad to be doing it, and they're glad to be on the aircraft.
Q Dan Taylor from Inside the Navy. I wonder if you could talk about whether the aircraft were shot at during their time there.
COL. ROCK: Sir, we had -- we believe, I mean, sometimes you can't always tell when someone is shooting at you. But we reported two attempted engagements where, we believe, we were deliberately targeted. One was small arms, and one was a rocket. Neither case, did they come anywhere close to the aircraft. And so therefore we did not receive any battle damage.
Did you feel like you had the coverage you needed from the gun system that was on the aircraft?
COL. ROCK: Well, in both instances, in those particular instances, we were already moving so fast. I mean, the, you know, you can't effectively employ, you know, a smaller-caliber, lower-caliber machine gun at the kind of speeds that we're moving.
I mean, you know, it's one of the great things about the aircraft. And it's using the tactics, taking advantage of the aircraft performance. I mean, somebody's opportunity to engage us is very short.
Q Would you feel more comfortable is you had a system that could provide 360-degree coverage?
COL. ROCK: Well, I mean, never ask a Marine if you wouldn't want more guns on his airplane. I mean, you know, that's kind of, I mean, more guns is good. (Laughter.)
But, and I can let the general answer any of the programmatics. But there is an effort to get a new weapons system that hangs under the belly of the airplane. And sure, if they -- if it comes to us, great. But I mean, what we had over there was appropriate and sufficient for the threat that was over there.
Q Colonel Rock, can I -- I'd like to hear Captain Faibisoff's MEDEVAC story. I also wanted to ask if you could talk about how many MEDEVACs you did.
But also I'm not sure I understood, when you're talking about the slip rings, what the answer was to what was wrong with them.
COL. ROCK: As I'm sitting here right now, I don't personally know what the engineers actually found and reported out, and what changes they might be making to it. I mean, again, you're kind of, you know, when you're deployed over there, you're a little bit of, every day's a knife fight; you know, we took care of that today; well, you know, I've got other stuff to worry about tomorrow, sort of thing.
But I'll certainly let Captain Faibisoff talk about --
And I'll get back to you on that. But I don't have the details on the solution either. Part of the problem was that all the airplanes are tracking in the same hours, at the same time. So they get to, you know, the end of the adequate slip ring cycle. And so you lose a lot of slip rings.
But the program obviously did make some tweaks to the system. And we haven't had a similar problem since. I'll get back to you personally on that.
Go ahead, Captain Faibisoff.
CAPT. FAIBISOFF: Yes, sir.
Paramount to the CASEVAC mission is something called the golden hour, which is that first 60 minutes from when a person gets wounded to the time they get to medical treatment. And research has shown that if you get them to treatment within that first 60 minutes, their chance of survival is significantly increased.
So we stood a CASEVAC mission for about a six-week period during the Muslim hajj as all the pilgrims are traveling south to Mecca, and Multinational Forces-West establishes a security area forward, and we provide that CASEVAC support for that mission. We were called up on the 25th of January, which was also --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Actually December.
CAPT. FAIBISOFF: I'm sorry, December. We were called up on the 25th of December --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Who needs a holiday in Iraq, right? (Laughter).
CAPT. FAIBISOFF: (Laughs.) Yeah, every day's a holiday. Which was Christmas Day, and was also our maintenance, which is a day we're typically not scheduled. But we still had that mission. We were called up at about 1:00 in the morning, and what we did was a 30- minute alert. So from the time we get a call to the time that we are supposed to be off deck is about -- is supposed to be less than 30 minutes.
And so that particular night was the first night in the whole time that we were out there that we were called up to perform this CASEVAC. And we got the phone call. We were up, off deck within 15 minutes and headed downrange. We went to a zone that's about 90 miles south of al Asad. So, typical to our -- you know, typical to the way we fly, we, you know, climbed up 9,000 feet, headed downrange, turned 50 knots and into that small zone.
The navigational equipment on the aircraft is great. We've got a digital moving map and forward-looking infrared. We've got great capability and we can pretty much land without reference to outside. So we came down and landed and picked this Marine up who had a ruptured appendix and got him back to al Asad all within -- from the time we got the call to the time we got him back was 56 minutes.
Q Who was the command pilot?
CAPT. FAIBISOFF: I don't remember.
Q You were the copilot?
CAPT. FAIBISOFF: I was the copilot. Yes, sir.
Q And where did you pick him up, exactly? Where was he based, the Marine, the -- the guy?
CAPT. FAIBISOFF: He was based at -- there was a -- where the security -- where the security element was forward, that's where it -- that's where it was, there was a small base out there.
Q Did you guys do other CASEVACs during --
COL. ROCK: That's one of the cool things about things about process and -- (inaudible) -- the capability of the aircraft is we stood that six-week alert. Thirty minutes, I had crews -- I had actually three crews standing by because we always launched at least a section, two aircraft. Three crews standing by 24 hours a day for six full weeks. We got scrambled a number of times. We got launched once. They were holding us for the long-range stuff.
But one of the beautiful things about that is -- I mean, this was the only aircraft that could do what the captain just described. For anybody else, you know, that golden hour is almost -- it's not written anywhere, but it is -- it's dug on your -- a contract, a promise. And for any other platform to provide that, they would have had to forward deploy. So I -- you know, some other unit would have had to send three or four helicopters down there with all the associated -- now you've got the problem of command and control of those aircraft, the force protection of having people outside the wire. And they would have sat there for six weeks and got called once.
We were able to do all of this from al Asad without forward basing.
Q And this Marine was successfully operated on and survived, as far as you know?
COL. ROCK: Yeah, we -- and that's one thing I honestly regret, is I didn't track this guy down so I can send him a Christmas card or something.
But yeah, we got him to a healthy scalpel, the military treatment facility at al Asad.
GEN. TRAUTMAN: I think he was level three, with a ruptured appendix, so I'm pretty sure he survived, or we would have known about it.
Q General, can you talk a little bit more about -- I'm sure a lot of people are aware that the original design of the V-22 had a nose gun. The nose gun was taken out of because of the weight. Can you talk a little bit more about what this system you're looking at is that would give the plane more firepower?
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Sure. You know, we've wanted an all-aspect, all- quadrant weapons systems on this platform since the very beginning. I remember talking about it when I was the weapons and tactics instructor at the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron in 1983. So that's a long time ago.
The reason we don't have an all-aspect gun on this platform is because it's hard to do. Okay? So it's more than just weight with regard to the chin gun.
I've got a lot of time flying Cobras, and the Cobra is the only helicopter in the Marine Corps that has a forward-firing gun. It is not an easy proposition, even in the Cobra.
The system that we're looking at now, with the Special Operations Command, is an all-aspect weapon that would be mounted in the belly of the aircraft.
I actually have a better degree of confidence about this than I've had about any other approach that we've taken. And if it comes out the way that we hope that it will come out -- and I actually have some degree of confidence that it will -- Special Operations Command will have this all-aspect weapon mounted, and they intend to deploy with it early in the fall.
Q Can you translate "all-aspect weapon" into English for the --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: All quadrants.
Q -- you know -- (off mike) --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: All quadrants. You know, if you have -- you have 360-degree coverage. So you --
Q So it's a weapon that can fire in any direction.
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Precisely.
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Much better stated than I did, I guess.
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Yeah, can fire in any direction that you want it to fire. This would be controlled by a gunner at a station inside the airplane.
Q And we heard -- you know, we heard you had a couple of incidents where you may have been fired on. But it seems like -- that you weren't really battle-tested in the sense that you had to land the plane in a hot landing zone, taking a lot of fire from the ground, where, for instance, you might have needed a weapon like the one you described, or even, you know, you would be much more vulnerable than that time, obviously, when you're flying very fast and you're a hard target. Can you talk -- any of you talk about whether you feel the plane has really been battle-tested, considering conditions in Anbar province were significantly better by the time you got there?
GEN. TRAUTMAN: That's a great question. And you know, some of you were probably here last April when the commandant came out and said we're going to deploy this airplane to Iraq. When they came out and said that, we were just a few weeks away from a CH-46 that had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile on a general support mission. At that time, combat in the Al Anbar province was very intense, and on a daily basis, Marines were being killed. Airplanes were being shot at. And that was, in my view, a -- the right -- absolutely the right decision to put the best airplane in the hands of our Marines.
Fast-forward to October of that year. And to the amazement of many, certainly to the amazement of the critics of how work was being done in Al Anbar, the situation there became very much different.
So by the time the squadron arrived in early October, those of you who follow what's going on in Iraq know that political accommodations in the Al Anbar province have drastically reduced the level of violence. And so this squadron came to the fore at a time when the violence just fell off the end of the table.
So, have they really been battle tested? I'd say they've been battle tested because the techniques and the tactics and procedures that they had to prepare for and that they executed had to be ready for the surface-to-air missile that we didn't know was there, but thank goodness it didn't come. Could it come tomorrow? It could. Did it come in their seven months there? No. And so we're thankful for that.
Q General, can each of you describe what your top lessons learned have been from this deployment, as if you were sitting in the right seat/left seat kind of deal with your contemporaries? What would you tell them they need to know about the aircraft specifically that you learned?
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Great question.
COL. ROCK: I mean, I understand you're probably looking for a short answer, but I mean I don't -- it's difficult to summarize seven months of a combat deployment with lessons. I mean, they cover the scope. There's everything from, you know, the training prior to coming out here --
Q What would you do differently in the training?
COL. ROCK: Just, for instance, one that quite frankly I take personal responsibility for because I just didn't see it coming was that this aircraft carries so much more than the 46; we simply were not used to loading that much onto the airplane. And we were carrying bigger amounts of cargo, bigger pallets and stuff like that, and there was a steep learning curve when we first got over there of how to get that much cargo into the airplane. I mean, you know, the mighty CH-46 -- and again, that's my roots, and the American people certainly have gotten their money out of that aircraft. I mean, but the thing just does not carry nearly as much, and we were loading the airplane up.
I mean, I'll let Sergeant Hermann talk a little bit about that, you know, in his frame of reference.
SGT. HERMANN: Yes, sir. One of the big differences I've seen, you know, between my first combat deployment with the 46 and the second one with the V-22 was just overall what the CO was saying, weight capabilities. The 46 can take roughly 12 passengers or 3,035 pounds of gear. You're not completely filling up the whole cabin. And with the V-22, it almost flip-flops. You can take 24 Marines or 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of gear. And we were really cubing out the aircraft vice worrying about weight limitations. So that's always a good thing to know, that if you need to put on anything, you can do it.
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Let's give -- do you have a lesson that you'd --
CAPT. FAIBISOFF: I'd echo their statements about --
Q . How about something different?
CAPT. FAIBISOFF: Well, I would echo their statement about learning how to track all the gear in that’s back, but also while I was over there I started out as a co-pilot and became an aircraft commander (short audio break) I learned a lot just in terms of developing as a pilot and learning the tactics and techniques that we use ..that we are going to be using over there in combat and I would say just the procedures that have to do with the aircraft. I just learned an incredible amount.
Q Colonel Rock --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: I think from a Marine Corps perspective -- let me just give a broader view from what the commandant and I and others back here have been thinking. What we've been thinking is that we need to find training venues and operational opportunities outside of a specific combat zone to learn better how to exploit the incredible capabilities that are resident in this airplane. It translates into the other kinds of core skill sets that the Marine Corps is famous for -- high-level amphibious operations, combined integrated arms, the kinds of thing that aren't being done in the type of environments that are forward. So we're looking for training venues and getting our smarter tacticians to expand the envelope of our brains. And we'll do that in the coming years. But that's really our lesson.
Q Colonel Rock, in December you were awaiting the arrival of fuel bladders that were going to help you do the aero scout missions, and I was just wondering, could you talk a little bit about that? Did those arrive, and did you use those? Did that make a difference in how you did those missions? Did you do a lot of those missions?
COL. ROCK: We already had -- the fuel bladders you're referring to are called mission auxiliary tanks, and we already had those. Those are just basically tanks you can put on a pallet and go on the back of the aircraft and (press your gas ?). And it was primarily designed for extended range, non-refueled range.
What we did receive was a capability called rapid ground refuel, and it was a pump that you can hook to the back of one of those thanks and then you can suck the gas out of those tanks and give it to anybody anywhere. That was actually something where, you know, the folks back home, higher headquarters, watching what we needed, we got forward and one of the things that we're finding is, you know, we're putting folks in places at long ranges, but for instance, the attack helicopter support for them, you know, they don't have our kind of legs, so we can give them those kind of legs by -- (inaudible) -- refueling at that point.
Q So did you do a lot of missions that way?
COL. ROCK: We did a couple of them. I mean, again, we don't drive what we get asked to do, necessarily. Especially when you're supporting a ground combat element, they tell us what they need and we seek and use that procedure when it's appropriate.
Q General, would you discuss your procurement plans, given your stated satisfaction with the performance? Any idea of expanding purchases beyond those already in the pipeline? Would you review exactly where you stand in terms of acquisition?
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Well, we just signed a multiyear procurement for 167 additional airplanes. From the Marine Corps' perspective, that guarantees us the opportunity to take 30 airplanes per year, which accommodates our transition plan, which is to transition two CH-46 squadrons into V-22 squadrons each year until we're done. And so we're very pleased with the current plan.
Q (Off mike) -- any plans to expand?
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Well, not on an annual basis, because capacity of industry is just about at the top end of where it can be. Remember we're sharing part of this buy with the Special Operations Command, and actually they are leaning forward to try to increase their capacity slightly. But for the remainder of the current fiscal year defense plan, we'll stay at 30 per year.
Q (Off mike.)
COL. ROCK (?): Yes, sir. Actually we did have some Air Force folks come out at a couple points along the spectrum during our predeployment training and then once we were also deployed. In fact, we had -- for instance, a master sergeant (maintainer ?), he came and stayed with the squadron for about a month, collected lessons that they could take back so they could try to learn from our experience.
Q Just to follow up on -- (cross talk) -- how many make up the three squadrons that the Marine Corps now has? And how many of the 167 go to the Marines? And how many go to the Air Force?
COL. ROCK: We have 59 airplanes now. Operationally we have 59. The squadron that's forward-deployed has 12. And within the 167, you know, help me with this.
143. Do the math. 30 per year is the number that makes me have a smile on my face, because that accommodates what I need to have a seamless transition for our Fleet Marine Force.
But 143. If that's not right, we'll get back to you, give you the right number.
Q I wonder if you could have the panel talk a little bit about the challenges of operating this aircraft in Iraq's dusty and sandy environment.
What effect does that have on the parts of the aircraft? Also does that pose a difficulty in terms of the downwash? Did you adjust your CONOPS to deal with that once you got over there?
GEN. TRAUTMAN: I'll talk about if from a longer-range perspective.
We have implemented a materiel condition inspection procedure where we're taking, incrementally through each of the 12 airplanes that are deployed, taking them down to the bare bones and assessing them very carefully. And thus far, we've been very pleased with the amount of degradation, which has not been much.
But we're going to watch that very closely, and see if we can keep these airplanes in theater 14 months, 18 months. Whatever time the materiel condition inspections tell us is what we will do. Let me let Colonel Rock talk a little bit about the rest of the equation.
COL. ROCK: Sir, I'll talk about the maintenance part of that. And just so I'm not monopolizing things here, I'll let Captain Faibisoff talk a little bit about landing it.
As far as the maintenance goes, as I talked about, during the 18 months predeployment training, we went out to the southwestern United States a number of times. They've got tremendous training ranges out there. Plus that place -- it's just hard to find a lot of open desert in Eastern North Carolina.
So we went out there. We worked there. And you know, that was tremendously beneficial. It really taught us a lot about how to be proactive in maintaining the aircraft.
You know, fast-forward to being in Iraq. And honestly we were, you know, you're kind of bracing for the worst again, you know, unknown, unknown. You don't know how rough it's going to be.
And honestly I think a combination of the environmental effects over there which is, they simply weren't as bad as training in the southwestern United States. I don't know. I mean, I'm no scientist. But you know, it almost seemed like the dirt and sand in the Yuma, Arizona, area had more grit than it did in Iraq.
I mean, honestly we changed, I believe, the same or fewer amount -- a classic one is rotor blades, sand erosion of the rotor blades. And I believe that we changed as many or fewer rotor blades in seven months in Iraq than we did in five weeks in Yuma, Arizona. And I credit again a large part of that to the maintainers being proactive and seeing it and basically treating it before it became an issue.
Q But the engines you did have to replace.
COL. ROCK: Oh, we absolutely replaced engines. I mean, that is a tough environment to run a toaster. I mean, it -- you know, trying to operate an aircraft and an engine -- and an engine sucks in air, and if there's dirt in the air, you're sucking in dirt.
We absolutely replaced engines. We were prepared to replace engines. They had a great stock of engines forward. We replaced them. We never had to wait on them, and we replaced them as it required. And honestly, bottom line, it was not nearly the issue I know that I was prepared -- preparing myself to expect.
CAPT. FAIBISOFF: I can tell you a little about the brownout landings that we did out there. When learning the forward deployment, in preparation for the deployment, we went -- you know, as said, we went out to the desert, Southwest, multiple times. And there we, you know, learned how to do brownout landings. And there are multiple ways to do it. You can do, you know, a no-hover to the deck.
But we also have a capability with the hover coupled -- and a hover coupled procedure in our aircraft. And what that is, is we'll come into a hover out-of-ground effect, and then push a button, and it -- our flight control computers lock on to the point that we hovered over, and it will keep us there.
And we have a hover page that comes up, and it shows us our drift back -- left and right, back and forth. And so from there we can just pull our TCL back, and the flight control computers keep us over that spot as we pull our TCL back and land the aircraft.
And during that, while we're doing that, you have crew chiefs in the back who are, you known, telling us, you know, where we're at and what's underneath us. And so even if we can't see what's up in front of us because of the dust and dirt, they can see out the back, just as a factor the way the downwash is and it blows out. So they can typically see when we can't see. So --
Q Does the computer tell you that this is up to the -- (off mike)?
CAPT. FAIBISOFF: Yes, it does.
Q General, if it were possible to increase production and procurement for the aircraft, would you support that, or is the level now sufficient for --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: We have to look at it very carefully, because we struggle with the training. We are global, and we also have -- we have commitments in the Pacific that don't get much publicity these days. But if you take more CH-46 squadrons down to build more V-22 squadrons, it would be challenging for us. We think that two squadrons per year is exactly the right amount. You know, you would never turn down additional resources, but I think I might have to turn them down at a certain point.
Q General, can you give perhaps a total figure on just how many missions were performed over there, or the total flight hours? Could you give us a sense of that?
GEN. TRAUTMAN: I could, but I will call Paul. He's memorized them, I think.
COL. ROCK: Yeah. We flew over 2,500 individual sorties, and each one of those being a Multinational Forces West tasked mission of one type or the other. Again, it was across the spectrum, everything. The majority of what we did was general support. We also -- and we also did raid operations, the Aeroscout, the casualty evacuation alert, the full spectrum.
Q Is that the burden you were hoping you would have? Did you hope to fly more of these or less? I mean, was there a goal coming into it just how many missions you want to fly?
COL. ROCK: One of the things about being over there is my only goals -- I had a couple goals when I took command of the unit, you know: train my Marines properly, execute our mission as well as we possibly could, and meet the mission, and bring everybody home.
And your mission -- you get over there, and it's often talked about -- the air war over there, it's a marathon, not a sprint. I mean, you know, there's a -- it's a lower-intensity conflict, but there is no shorter -- there's no end of the work, moving people around, especially for medium lift assault support.
And so they expect you to show up every day and with a certain number of sorties to get done, and we were doing it. And I was very proud of it.
I mean, we don't set our own pace of operations. Our higher headquarters sets it for us. And if they see we're doing well, they'll even expand it. I mean, we flew more than I think folks were planning for us to.
Q But would you say that the squadron was able to handle the workload it had? (Inaudible) -- if you're overworked --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Talk about the utilization and the number of flight hours per month, per airplane.
COL. ROCK: Yes, sir. There was a term called utilization rate, which is the number of flight hours you put on a particular airframe per aircraft per month.
And when we -- prior to the deployment, when the plan was done to deploy us, the target utilization rate for us was 50 hours per aircraft per month, which would have come out to about 500 hours in a month for the squadron.
We averaged, while we were over there, about 62 hours per aircraft per month. And again it increased over the course of the deployment. I mean, when we first got over there, you know, you're figuring out a good battle rhythm, how you're going to get things done.
Towards the end, we had our highest hour month of March, flew 700 hours. And the beautiful thing about it was that the Marines were doing it, and they were not stressed; they were not strained.
We had seven weather days where, you know, typical of Anbar at that time of year, you know, you can't see here in front of yourself, so nothing is flying. But I mean, they just -- they were brave.
Q Even though it was over that rate, it wasn't a huge problem.
COL. ROCK: No. No. I mean, no. We were making it happen.
Q Were any of those 2,500 sorties -- did they involve either landing or taking off under hostile fire or heavy fire?
COL. ROCK: No, sir.
And I mean, the thing about how you do -- (inaudible) -- assault support is that it's not an attack aircraft. I mean, you don't shoot your way into LZs. I mean, it is a defensive -- any capability that the aircraft had is defensive.
And in that case, not that it came up during our time there, but you have fixed-wing and rotor-wing, objective-area escort. And if something's that hairy, you know, you roll them on it.
Q General, correct me if I'm wrong. But isn't one of the missions of this aircraft to, you know, infiltrate or exfiltrate Marines from a hostile zone?
For instance, if you had Marines who were, you know, under fire and needed to be evacuated, because they were outnumbered, wouldn't this be the airplane you'd send in to get them?
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Absolutely, but we would do it in the objective area in a combined arms way. We would have intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets on-station, typically unmanned aerial systems or non-traditional ISR onboard fixed-wing airplanes.
We'd have fixed-wing airplanes armed with rockets, missiles and guns. We'd have attack helicopters on-scene with rockets, guns, hellfire missiles.
And they will do the shooting and the killing --
Q (Off mike) --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: -- and at the right time, you would bring in the assault support assets. I mean, that's our classic way of doing business. That's always been our way of business, and it's the smart way of doing business. I mean, you do your best to overmatch the enemy with firepower, and then at the time and place of your choosing, you make the landing.
Q Colonel, you said the fixed-wing would fly your escort, because the Cobras couldn't keep up, I'm guessing, or is that how your tactics are evolved?
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Go ahead, if you want.
COL. ROCK: What we primarily did is -- the aircraft's pure performance, in and of itself, makes it prohibitive for rotary wing to escort us. I mean, we just out fly anything that's got a rotor head. And for fixed-wing, given the threat over there, we did not have fixed-wing attached escort. I mean, in training and in testing the aircraft, we demonstrated you could certainly escort it with fixed- wing.
What we normally did is the -- the great performance of the airplane, I mean, we could typically, for instance, do in a raid, without too much -- (inaudible) -- you can fly, you know, very circuitous routing because of the speed and range of plane, hold well off target -- your escort, your surveillance, that sort of thing. If they're in any objective area, they got a good assessment of what the threat is, and then they call us in. We're in quickly; we're gone quickly. And so the primary -- primarily in the objective area is where you focus.
GEN. TRAUTMAN: You typically don't depend on attached escort in a desert environment. I mean, even with a CH-46 and Cobra mission with comparable speeds, you wouldn't typically do attached escort, because with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, you can make sure that you're not going to go into harm's way.
Q (Off mike) -- squadron in Afghanistan is using? Escorts, I'm assuming.
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Depending on the mission. I mean, correct, depends on -- you know, there's a difference between attached escorts and a combined arms approach where you get the firepower where you need it at the time that you need it. So in some cases they would be. In some cases they wouldn't be.
Q Colonel, you said that it was the fact that it was only fired on twice during its deployment -- would you see that was more of a function of a V-22's speed or the area you were operating in or both?
COL. ROCK: As the general mentioned, the situation in the Marine area of operations has definitely improved. And it's -- that's tough. It's tough to answer that, because it's tough to prove a negative. I will tell you, though, you know, we did our best to make ourselves a very difficult target.
I mean, the predominant threat over there is small arms, light machine guns. The most lethal threat is shoulder-launched missiles. With the profiles that we fly, I mean, we are just doggone extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to engage with small arms. And again, with the profiles that we flew and the characteristics of the aircraft, we provide very little cue-in for those who are trying to use something else.
GEN. TRAUTMAN: I guess maybe the root of the question that's continuing is did you go everywhere around the clock, or were there places that we didn't send it?
COL. ROCK: We went all over the AO. And in fact, one of the things that I -- I had a sense about how we were being used differently, but I didn't have anything in front of me, you know, kind of to show me. I had -- I had some sharp captains and operations who -- I just had them take a typical week of where a CH-46 went on general support missions and a typical week of where we went, and it was just -- it was eye-opening. I mean, with the shorter legs and whatnot, the CH-46s were confined to a relatively small area. And then they plotted -- they plotted out where we were going. We were all over the area of operations and well outside of it, to include, you know, going outside the country, even, as required, depending on what Multinational Forces-West had for tasking for us. So you know, we went everywhere.
Q But as a follow-up, were there some landing zones you were not able to land in? For instance, LZ Washington in the Green Zone.
COL. ROCK: We did not go to (LZ) Washington, and I don't -- I can't tell you if we can't land there or not because we were not asked to go there and --
Q The 46s go in there regularly.
COL. ROCK: The 46s do go in there, but I really think that's more sort of a function of the approach into there and that actual area being a little -- you know, a little friendlier. We are a bigger aircraft than a 46 and we do make a little bit more downwash, so it was just -- I think it was more sort of an LZ compatibility thing. It wasn't -- it wasn't really based off of, you know, somebody protecting us.
Q You said the aircraft could carry a lot more weight, obviously, than the 46. What was your average payload? Were you loading 24 soldiers on there and 3,000 pounds, or were you -- I mean, what was the average payload you operated with?
COL. ROCK: One of the things about how we got tasked is, you know, in combat a lot of times, effectiveness trumps efficiency. And you know, we would quite regularly not fill the airplane up because, again, you're going -- you know, the Marine and coalition forces are spread out all over the area of operations. I mean, we would take folks or gear or whatever, or retrieve folks or gear from tiny little, you know, knothole sort of places, border outposts and stuff like there, where, yeah, we're not filling the airplane up. So --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: But you carried about 1.4 million pounds of cargo in your deployment. Can you compare and contrast that to a 46 deployment, or is that in the range that you were talking about?
COL. ROCK: Just as far as the range here -- yes, General.
One of the other things I was having those sharp operations captains, when they were plotting the distribution of where we went, had them pick -- because, you know, you have records of all of this -- how much distance the average 46 session covered. The typical general support mission over there is about six to eight hours long of flying, all over the AO. Plotted out how much mileage you cover with a CH-46 section and then a typical V-22 section. A typical CH-46 section was less than 200 miles. A typical V-22 section was about 550 miles, so almost three times as far. I mean, we were -- you know, again, we were very pleased with the fact that, you know, no one was shy about using the airplane to get all over the place.
Q You mentioned that the extra range would allow you to operate outside the country. Where outside Iraq would you operate?
COL. ROCK: Primarily -- the most common place was down to Kuwait.
Q Did you do --
Q Anywhere else besides Kuwait? Any other --
COL. ROCK: I am -- I honestly --
General, I mean, am I allowed to talk about --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Sure.
COL. ROCK: Yeah, okay. Went to -- we also went to -- we also went to Jordan. And that's, you know, poor preparation on my part; I just honestly didn't know if I was allowed to say. But --
Q When did you --
COL. ROCK: This is -- again, in that --
No, I wish. (Laughter.)
Q I said, I think you're hiding something now that you said -- you didn't know if you could say you went to Jordan. (Laughter.)
COL. ROCK: Yes, sir. I've punted it into the stands. (Laughter.)
You know, I -- but --
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Carried people over there, normal people.
COL. ROCK: Just carried -- just carried folks. I mean, it was something as -- it was something as mundane as, you know, some team had or some group of folks had to be picked up at one of the, you know, doggone airports in Jordan. It was nothing sexy or fancy. It was just --
STAFF: We have time for one more question.
Q Any slingloads when you were over there? Did you do any?
COL. ROCK: We did do some slingload operations, yes, sir.
Q What kind of -- what were you carrying?
COL. ROCK: It was just typical palletized stuff. I mean, there are combat outposts there that get resupplied, a lot of the resupply from air. So it was just palletized, you know, food, water, supplies, whatever, that sort of thing.
Q Will the next -- will the next -- will 162's deployment possibly be a little more difficult because of the hotter temperatures, do you think, or is it going to be pretty much the way yours went?
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Well, you know, hot temperatures, as you well know and most of you know, affect, you know, rotor performance. So you'll have a degradation of performance based upon very hot conditions. But we don't anticipate any significant issues.
STAFF: Thank you, gentlemen.
GEN. TRAUTMAN: Thanks, everybody.
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