A gun for Osprey?
By Gayle S. Putrich - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Oct 9, 2007 11:01:48 EDT

Air Force and Marine Corps V-22 Ospreys may get a turret-mounted machine gun, fulfilling a long-sought requirement for a forward-firing defensive weapon and making it unique among today’s U.S. transport aircraft.

There’s little agreement on when such a gun might arrive, but at least one major defense company is spending its own money to compete for the job.

A nose gun was considered early in the tilt-rotor’s two-decade gestation but was branded too costly, Air Force requirements officials said.

The fiscal 2008 supplemental request includes $82 million for research, development and testing of an “all-quadrant,” or 360-degree, defensive weapon to augment the ramp-mounted .50-caliber machine gun the Marines use for now.

Navy program spokesman James Darcy said there is no timetable for finding such a gun, and the search will be bound by finances and the plodding acquisition process.

“SOCom is looking at a faster turnaround,” Darcy said. “But Air Force Special Operations Command is flying a different mission than the Marine Corps.”

The squadron of 10 Marine-owned Ospreys now making its way to Iraq will be used largely to transport troops, equipment and supplies. The Air Force, which handles the tilt-rotor program for U.S. Special Operations Command, is buying the plane for long-range special ops missions. While the Air Force’s CV-22s are not slated to hit the desert until 2009, the service’s Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley is considering deploying his aircraft earlier.

In September, SOCom announced the search for an “interim all-quadrant defensive weapon system” for its CV-22 tilt-rotors, with the intention of flight-testing such a weapon within 120 days of the contract award.

“We both have a requirement for some sort of defensive weapon system,” said Air Force Lt Col. Chet Treloar, deputy director for mobility and special operations requirements.

But for the most part, those requirements are intentionally vague, he said, leaving the door open for industry to be as innovative as possible. It is not even specified whether the system should be fully integrated into the aircraft in the future or if a drop-in solution is the best plan.

“There are advantages and disadvantages to total, permanent integration,” said Air Force Maj. Rob Pittman of the Air Force acquisition office. “The quick-and-dirty solution that gets the job done might be the answer.”

Pittman, Treloar and Darcy said the requirements are joint Marine-Air Force requirements and the expectation is that everyone will get the same weapon. But they added that nothing has been decided except the requirements.

“There’s no competition yet and there’s been no selection yet,” Darcy said.

“It’s possible that the solution may be different” for different versions of the V-22, Pittman said. “But we push for as much commonality as possible.”

“I don’t think we’re there yet” as to what the final solution will be, Treloar said. “But the Air Force and the Navy and the Marine Corps are committed to keeping the troops safe. They want to deploy this aircraft tin a way that is as safe and effective as possible.”

BAE jumping the gun

Meanwhile, BAE Systems has been spending its own money to develop the Remote Guardian System, a turreted, remote-operated, retractable weapon that could be fielded in the third quarter of 2008 and fitted aboard the V-22 and other aircraft, said Clark B. Freise, vice president and general manager of defense avionics for BAE.

“We’ve been investing for two years and created our own program to develop the capability,” Freise said.

While Freise would not say how much BAE has spent or how much it would charge per weapon, he did say the price would be low enough to appeal to the Pentagon and high enough to recoup its investment.

“We spent a lot of money on it,” he said. “We found a hole in their protection, we’re covering it for now, and we’ll get it back. We’d rather not say how much we’ve invested. We have shared with the Marine Corps what we think it will cost to go into production, and it is significantly lower than other solutions.”

So far, the Remote Guardian has been tested only while mounted on a Humvee, but Freise said it has fired various U.S. weapons and is currently cleared to handle 300 knots and four times the force of gravity. Guns can include a 7.62mm Gatling gun, a .50-caliber machine gun and more, he said. He said it has an easily upgradeable sensor suite.

A concern with any 360-degree system, especially a remote-firing one, is taking a shot at your own propeller or landing gear.

According to BAE, that is not a risk with Remote Guardian.

“The gun will never, ever point at a part of the aircraft. We integrated the safety keys into the design from the very beginning,” Freise said.

Kris Osborn contributed to this report.