As the U.S. Marine Corps shifts its focus to hot spots around the world, the ability to move quickly from ship to shore is receiving renewed attention.
Over the years, as Marines were fighting insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, protecting ground troops from roadside bombs became a priority, and heavily armored trucks known as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles became ubiquitous.
But as the U.S. military has reduced its involvement in those countries, the emphasis is shifting to supporting Marines in their ship-to-shore, or “amphibious,” role. Faster decision-making and enhanced interoperability with allied troops have also moved up on the priority list.
To support its multifaceted operations, the Marines are investing in a “highly unique menagerie of systems,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group, an aerospace and defense industry consulting firm. These systems include rotorcraft, fighter jets and ground vehicles that storm the beaches.
The MV-22 Osprey, with tilt rotors that allow it to take off like a helicopter, has twice the speed, six times the range and three times the payload of the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter it’s replacing, according to Naval Air Systems Command. Although the Osprey had a series of technological problems during its long development phase (resulting in a series of fatal crashes), they’ve largely been addressed over the years. The Corps has placed in service about two-thirds of the 360 aircraft it plans to buy and is already exploring potential upgrades.
“The V-22 has been a game-changer,” Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for Marine aviation, said at the Modern Day Marine exposition in Quantico, Virginia, in September. The Marines went from the CH-46 helicopter, which “had about a 75-mile radius, to an airplane now that’s got a 450-mile combat radius and flies most of the time above the small-arms threat.”
In Europe this fall, U.S. Marines displayed the MV-22’s amphibious capabilities and the ability to operate with allies during Trident Juncture 15, billed as the largest NATO exercise in the past 10 years. There, Osprey missions included transporting allied troops from a British ship to Spain for a simulated assault.
The Osprey isn’t the only rotorcraft on the Marine modernization plate. The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter flew for the first time in October in Florida, kicking off a 2,000-hour flight test program.
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Featured photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Zack Baddorf, U.S. Navy