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Osprey ready for Mexico, not Iraq

August 04, 2007|By ROBERT GARY

The V-22 Osprey helicopter is not ready for prime time in Iraq, for three reasons. The side-by-side position of the rotors can cause the air that's being pushed down to circulate back up under the rotor so that lift is lost.

This aerodynamic issue is simply built in to the whole design of the V-22 Osprey. It's called vortex ring state. It can be counteracted by some very fancy piloting, but it can't be designed out - it's not fixable, like the hydraulic problems, the fuel leak issues and the nose wheel defects.

The only way to avoid vortex ring state is to avoid quick descents. But in combat the ability to descend quickly is crucial, and this is doubly true where there are so many talented rocket propelled grenade (RPG) shooters and small arms shooters on the ground.

An aircraft worth $110 million with 20 marines on it makes a very rich target. Iraq is a land of RPG virtuosos - maybe the best shooters in the world. These are men who will run directly into the landing zone to their certain death in order to get off a more accurate shot.

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It is a land of clannish, secretive people, some devoted to a culture of death and martyrdom, connected by cellphones, informed by sympathizers and with the ability to coordinate ex-tempore military tactical strikes on very short notice - they keep the RPGs in their homes, all over Iraq, in all the major cities, most especially in Baghdad. Rich targets that can't land quickly don't do well in such environments.

The second design feature of note is the lack of armor. This is a machine with amazingly complex electronics, hydraulics and computer flight control systems. No armor means that flying over Baghdad the Osprey would be high-tech Swiss cheese in a very short time.

The Osprey is a sort of flying version of the unarmored Humvees, which, because of their own square-bottom design defects, have turned out to be very vulnerable to explosively shaped projectiles buried under Iraqi roads and set off by cellphone.

The Osprey's third major combat defect is the lack of ability to autorotate for an emergency landing - like any ordinary helicopter can do. The side-by-side configuration and the engineering of the rotors prevents autorotation landings. If power is lost in both engines, the V-22 becomes a metal box in the sky with no ejection seat.

This Administration is composed of men who have no sense of shame. It's a cocoon in which all the power is inside the cocoon, and all the members of the cocoon club reinforce each other. They care nothing for the opinions of mankind, or anyone outside the cocoon.

Did Wolfowitz show any sense of shame? Did Tenet or Rumsfeld? How about Alberto Gonzales or Scooter Libby? Does anybody think that Dick Cheney or Karl Rove will ever experience any regret for what they've done, no matter how badly it eventually turns out?

The V-22, an aerodynamic monster born of governmental inertia, official cowardice and political corruption, is an artifact of a hopelessly flawed military procurement system that has already lost us a lot of men (26 Marines and four civilians in Osprey crashes alone) and will continue to do so unless radically overhauled.

The best use of the Osprey is on the Texas-Mexico border, where it's not likely to encounter RPG's and high-intensity fusillades of accurate AK-47 fire. There it can land slowly and safely because it's not coming into a hot LZ surrounded by sharpshooters with cellphones.

It can deploy Border Patrol agents and K-9 teams very efficiently, and then circle as an airborne command post to vector the law enforcement personnel to the lawbreakers for a physical interception and arrest. All the ugly duckling qualities of the V-22 become beautiful swan qualities if only it is sent on its true mission.

The 2,500-mile Texas-Mexico border where quick on-the-spot manpower is needed, and aerial reconnaissance, command, and control is key, is where this bird can do wonders. Eventually the U.S.-Canada border will have to be covered as well. But, the Osprey is not ready for prime time in Iraq, and anybody who sends it there should be investigated for reckless dereliction of duty.

Robert Gary is a Hagerstown resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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