The Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey has been deployed globally since 2007 with only one major offensive weapon: a machine gun pointed out the back of the aircraft.
Besides that, the tiltrotor aircraft – which takes off and lands vertically like a helicopter, but can pivot its engines and rotors forward to fly long distances at a higher speed like a fixed-wing plane – has relied on its speed and agility to protect itself from ground fire. But that could change soon.
Bell-Boeing announced on Monday that it had successfully fired rockets from a V-22 test aircraft.
The Osprey currently has limited firepower from the machine gun and an optional small, remote controlled gun that can be installed on the bottom of the aircraft. A Marine in an Osprey’s cargo bay could fire the 360-degree belly-mounted gun from a control station, but that weapon is rarely used since it weighs a lot, lessening the amount of cargo the aircraft can carry.
But forward-firing rockets, which are lighter and more lethal than the belly gun, could provide a more practical solution and could expand the types of missions flow by the V-22, experts say. When in hostile territory, the Osprey often flies alongside helicopter gunships for protection.
But these attack helicopter escorts do not have the flying range of the V-22, meaning they have to land to refuel and have their rockets re-loaded on the battlefield at what is called a forward arming and refueling point.
“Integrating a forward-firing capability to the Osprey will increase its mission set,” Vince Tobin, vice president and program manager for the Bell Boeing V-22, said in a statement.
“These weapons, once installed, will provide added firepower and reduce reliance on forward arming and refueling points (FARPs), which are sometimes necessary to supply short range attack rotorcraft in support of V-22 operations,” he said. “Without the need for FARPs, V-22s can be launched more frequently, and on shorter notice.”
During the tests last month, an Osprey fired short-range guided and unguided rockets, including the BAE Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System and Raytheon Griffin B.
The rockets were fired from launchers mounted on the left side of the aircraft, just outside the cockpit window. The pilot or co-pilot could fire the weapons. The pilots could spot targets outside their cockpit windows, unlike the remote controlled gun, where a Marine had to stare at a computer screen. In 2010, Marine Corps Times reported that the gun controllers often experienced nausea after becoming disoriented from staring at the screen.
The Marine Corps used the MV-22 to move cargo and troops around the battlefield. It has also been used for search-and-rescue missions. The Air Force flies the CV-22 on special operations missions.
Bell Boeing has delivered 242 MV-22 tiltrotor for the Marine Corps and 44 CV-22 to the Air Force. The latest weapon test was paid for by Bell-Boeing and conducted at U.S. Army Proving Ground in Yuma, Ariz. The Marines have not formally funded a program to equip Osprey with the rockets, yet.