WASHINGTON – The first combat squadron of tilt-rotor V-22 Ospreys has been quietly deployed to Iraq, ushering a new form of aerial technology into 21st-century warfare.
A Marine Corps aviation squadron and 10 Ospreys left for Iraq on Monday aboard the USS Wasp, a small Navy aircraft carrier known as an amphibious assault ship, said Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Eric Dent.
The departure from the New River Marine Corps Air Station near Jacksonville, N.C., was made under extremely tight security with no advance notice to the press.
Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263, nicknamed “The Thunder Chickens,” will be based at the Al Asad airbase in western Iraq for at least seven months of combat operations. The Marine Corps Ospreys, known as MV-22s, will be used to ferry Marines and cargo throughout the predominantly Sunni Anbar province.
Dent, citing “operational security,” offered only limited details about the deployment and said he was not allowed to discuss the timetable of the trip or scheduled arrival at Iraq. The V-22s, which, in military-speak can “self-deploy” into war zones, could conceivably leave the Wasp en route and make the rest of the journey by air.
The deployment marks a long-sought goal after three decades of tilt-rotor technology that began with the development and flight of Bell Helicopter’s XV-15 prototype in the 1970s. Fort Worth, Texas-based Bell is manufacturing the Osprey with Boeing Helicopters of Ridley Township, Pa.
The aircraft, which flies like an airplane and lands and takes off like a helicopter, reaches speeds and distances well beyond that of traditional helicopters and is considered far more agile than the aging CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters that it is replacing.
But the Osprey’s entry into combat will be under intense scrutiny after years of controversy that included delays, steadily rising costs and two fatal crashes in 2000 that nearly led to the program’s cancellation. Critics say the tilt-rotor concept is still unproven and could endanger the lives of its crew members in combat.