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02-12-07, 01:25 PM #1
Osprey Groundings Speed Bump, Not Roadblock
Osprey Groundings Speed Bump, Not Roadblock
Feb 12, 2007
By Michael Fabey/Aerospace Daily & Defense Report
Military aviation analysts say the U.S. Marine Corps' decision to ground its 46 MV-22 Ospreys because of a computer chip malfunction will likely disrupt, but not derail, the tiltrotor aircraft's development and procurement program.
An engineering check identified a fault caused by a computer chip in the Flight Control Computers (FCC) of some Ospreys, Marine Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas said Feb. 9.
'A few hassles'
The computer chip is in a circuit that enables the three redundant FCCs to provide backup control for each other should one FCC malfunction, Fazekas said. Testing found that in extremely cold temperatures, the chip could fail to do that job.
Built-in FCC test procedures before flight detected the failure, he said. No failure mode occurred in flight.
Engineering analysis of the issue is continuing and FCCs are being removed and inspected to isolate the fault-producing chip, Fazekas said. Those FCCs with the flawed chip will be corrected. Aircraft will return to flight as good FCCs are made available.
The problem does not appear to be a major aircraft or safety issue, analysts said. They also doubted the grounding, by itself, could create a major issue for the Osprey program. The Marines consider the MV-22 a linchpin aircraft for their aviation needs, but the program has encountered a series of safety issues, questionable performance reviews and even scandals during its decades of development.
"I don't think a routine grounding could create more than a few hassles," said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal Group. "It would have to be something more serious."
That's especially true when it comes to procurement, Aboulafia said. "Budgetarily, they're out of the woods," he said. "The procurement cash is flowing."
The proposed fiscal year 2008 budget includes about $1.9 billion to buy 21 versions of the Marine MV-22, and another $118 million for research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E) (See related chart, page 6).
"I guess this could create some headaches for multiyear procurement contracts," Aboulafia said.
The Lexington Institute's Loren Thompson said the Marine Corps' decision to ground the aircraft is due to fear of another major program glitch. "The Marines might have overreacted," he said.
Other analysts disagreed. "Any negative attention to the V-22 program at this juncture is unwelcome," said Christopher Bolkcom, defense specialist for the Congressional Research Service (CRS). "But based on the information in the press release, the grounding of the MV-22 fleet sounds like a prudent hedge against potential mishap."
Based on the scant information released thus far, Bolkcom said that the avionics glitch does not appear to be a problem unique to this aircraft or tiltrotor technology, and it appears to be unrelated to previously reported V-22 problem areas.
But other analysts wonder if the glitch is evidence of something more.
"The self-diagnostic system seems to work, and that's a good thing," said Lee Gaillard, author of the recently released Center for Defense Information's report, "V-22 Osprey: Wonder Weapon or Widow Maker."
But Gaillard also said it's another concern for an aircraft that's been plagued with developmental problems. "It seems that we now have hardware - computer chip - problems in addition to ongoing software problems that have caused side-to-side oscillations in flight. Is this just the latest in a series of quality control issues that have plagued this program and contributed to fatal crashes? Or is this the tip of an iceberg in relation to possible outdated systems?"
He also said, "What will happen during extended operations in extreme heat, when electrical resistance rises, in conditions likely to be encountered in the summer in places like Iraq? Will chips then be even more likely to fail? Replacing just the faulty chips is but an interim solution: what other chips are just waiting to fail?"
Deployment in June
It should be clear, Gaillard said, that the Osprey is not ready for combat deployment.
As of September, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Castellaw said Ospreys should be ready for deployment in June. After the grounding announcement, the Marines said that they don't see anything to prevent deployment of the aircraft this summer.
While it could take some time to isolate the exact nature of the computer chip problem, find a fix and test the equipment, the Lexington Institute's Thompson said the Marines still could deploy the aircraft even as the service is outfitting it with whatever updates the V-22s need to resolve the glitch.
"What this means is we won't be deploying to the North Pole anytime soon," Thompson said. "And you're not likely to see freezing temperatures in Mesopotamia."
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
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