The manufacturers of the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft see future payloads installed in the aircraft’s cargo bay as critical to the expansion of the aircraft’s mission sets.
John Parker, Boeing’s senior manager for Global Sales and Marketing, Tiltrotor Programs, said: “The key to everything in the future is the roll-on/roll-off capability.”
Parker said the V-22 has the potential to provide aerial refuelling and perform antisubmarine warfare, airborne early warning and gunship missions with different configurations. A carrier on-board delivery version, the CMV-22B, is in development to replace the US Navy’s C-2A Greyhound aircraft.
The US Marine Corps plans to add an aerial tanker capability to the MV-22B to support its F-35B Lightning IIs on board amphibious assault ships. The tanker would also be able to refuel other V-22s and CH-53 helicopters embarked on the ships. Dry runs with a hose-and-reel assembly streaming from the cargo bay were conducted in September 2013.
In May 2016, the Bell-Boeing Joint Program Office was awarded a $58.8 million contract to develop the roll-on/rolloff V-22 Aerial Refueling System (VARS). The V-22 initially will be able to transfer 4,000lb (1,815kg) of fuel to an F-35. The planned capacity will increase to 10,000lb (4,535kg) with additional tanks.
“We’re funded and are proceeding with development of the VARS,” said Parker, noting the system can be installed in a couple of hours.
Parker also said weapons trials with the MV-22B have been ongoing, including guided 2.75in rockets, the AGM-176 Griffin missile and two other weapons he was unable to discuss. He said that “everything is an option” to give the MV-22 the capability to counter enemy fire in a landing zone, given the Osprey is too fast for helicopter gunship escort; there is also the option of turning the Osprey into a small AC-130-type gunship.
The F-35 Lightning II is easily able to counter the current adversary aircraft thrown at it in numbers, said an official of an adversary services contractor, who added that the industry is facing challenges in coming up with a realistic threat aircraft for training for high-end combat.
Jeffrey Parker is a former Air Force fighter pilot and Chief Executive of ATAC LLC, a Textron company that provides opposing aircraft for US fighter squadrons and electronic threat simulation against Navy strike groups. He said: “Nothing gets close to the F-35s. I’ve flown against the [US Marine Corps] F-35Bs down at [Marine Corps Air Station] Beaufort [South Carolina]. It’s an impressive airplane. Even in the hands of students, it’s a very capable fighter.”
Parker also said that increased adversary services are needed by the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to reduce the fatigue-life toll on use of the services’ own frontline fighters and the limited number of flight hours available for the adversary role.
According to Parker, the Navy has a shortage of readiness training, so the service is reaching out to industry to try to solve the problem, citing how the Navy is using too much ‘grey air’, a colloquial term for combatcoded Hornets and Super Hornets.
He said each contractor-operated adversary aircraft that flies 250 hours a year is the equivalent of freeing an F/A-18 Super Hornet for fleet use for one year. Ten ATAC aircraft in use for 250 hours each can extend the service lives of ten Super Hornets per year.
The Navy has three dedicated adversary squadrons equipped with third-generation F-5Ns or fourth-generation F/A-18 fighters and the US Marine Corps fields one squadron of F-5Ns. The Navy’s Top Gun weapons school also uses F/A-18 and F-16 adversary aircraft. The US Air Force operates two aggressor F-16 squadrons. Companies like ATAC use foreign-built aircraft such as the supersonic F-21 Kfir and slower Hawker Hunter to supplement their adversary force.
“The Navy squadrons are hurting on aircraft,” Parker said. “They don’t have enough. They’re also trying to upgrade their training from third-generation aircraft like F-5Ns to fourth-generation aircraft like F/A- 18s and F-16s.
Aircraft shortages in training are made worse by the fifth-generation F-35 aircraft, which requires a lot of adversary aircraft to present a robust air-to-air threat.
Parker said more fourth-generation fighters are needed to meet the increasing demand for adversary services, but that “not enough fourth-generation aircraft in the world are available to industry. Nobody can provide it all, nor can all of us [the adversary companies] provide it together, at least in the next five years or so.”
Because of restrictions in US law, the adversary contractors cannot purchase or lease fourth-generation fighters from the US Department of Defense, aircraft in desert storage. As such, they go to foreign nations such as Israel for retired jets to bring to the United States.
The Navy has issued a draft request for proposals for fourth-generation adversary services for the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada. The service is looking for F-16 or Su-27-like capability with an upgraded radar.
“There’s only one category of radar [that can meet specifications] — an AESA [active electronically scanned array],” said Parker.
For cost reasons, he said, single-engine jets are needed, rather than two-engine aircraft. The ability of the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II to track and engage large numbers of opposing aircraft means that large numbers of adversary aircraft are needed to provide a realistic scenario for training the pilots. For example, the US Air Force has equipped the 71st Fighter Training Squadron ‘Ironmen’ (a former F-15C Eagle unit) with T-38C supersonic trainers at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, to provide enough bogeys to challenge the F-22s based there.
He continued: “The Raptor is such an uneven fight, that if you send out two Raptors against anything else, there’s no challenge, no work for the pilots to do. For a two-ship they want 12 bandits.
“What we see going on is maturing of the industry. By going to the fourth-generation level, the Navy is acknowledging these programmes are going to be around and integrated at the highest levels, because the service now has radar and the ability to pull 9 g at the merge, with helmet off-boresight capability.”
A mission data processing system capable of more rapid sorting of mission data is planned for integration into the Navy’s P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft as part of the Increment 3 upgrade.
According to the Naval Air Systems Command’s programme manager for maritime patrol reconnaissance force aircraft, Captain Tony Rossi, the Minotaur mission system, developed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab: “… allows the operator to filter through a mountain of data. The system is planned for the next Engineering Change Proposal [in the P-8’s upgrade roadmap].”
Processing data is an increasing challenge for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, because of the large volume collected. The Navy is pushing for more rapid data processing and integration to increase its lethality, as well.
Minotaur, which includes hardware and software, “quickly integrates a multitude of sensors,” Rossi said.
The Minotaur will be included in P-8s in production Lots 8, 9 and 10. Other upgrades are scheduled for implementation between 2018 and 2023.
Rossi pointed out that the P-8 has the power, weight accommodation and cooling to handle easily significant upgrades to systems and payloads.
Minotaur is already operational in several types of aircraft, including the Navy’s EP-3E Aries II electronic reconnaissance aircraft and other aircraft flown by the US Air Force and Customs and Border Protection. The Coast Guard is also adapting Minotaur for the mission systems on its HC-130J and HC-144.