Any major military acquisition program, from the M1 Abrams tank, to the FA-18A Hornet, to the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft may reliably depend upon a vocal critic within the Pentagon to decry its lack of war fighting effectiveness and operational suitability. Defense acquisition is necessarily a zero-sum game, and a funded program is a fierce temptation to those whose own programs and preferences remain unfunded, or underfunded.
That critic can reliably depend upon the editorial pages of the New York Times to give his perturbations a full-throated national voice, the editors comprehensively convinced that any dollar spent in the defense of the nation is a dollar that ought to be spent preventing war-crazed Rethuglicans from cold-heartedly throwing babies into the snow.
High tech is a force multiplier, but it is definitionally complex. Complexity engenders risk, developmental testing takes time, and in the case of the V-22 program, it took lives. Reasonable people had room for doubt.
No longer, according to Richard Whittle:
Once upon a time, the evil ogres of the military-industrial complex spawned a mutant flying machine, a freakish helicopter-airplane hybrid so dangerous and costly it deserved to die. Yet tribes of pork-addicted toadies and blind intellectual dwarfs shielded the beast from knights in shining armor who sallied forth tirelessly — heavily armed with GAO reports — to slay it.
That’s the fairy tale the V-22 Osprey’s bitterest critics like to believe, but the facts about the tiltrotor transport, which the Marines fought a quarter of a century to get into service, tell a far happier story. This ugly duckling is turning out to be a swan.
The result is that Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., unwittingly spoke the truth in May when she futilely tried for the umpteenth time to cut the V-22 from the defense budget by arguing that the “Osprey’s mishaps have become practically the stuff of legend.”
“Legend” is the right word. Since Dec. 11, 2000, the Osprey has suffered one fatal accident – one in 11 years.
Whittle goes on to state that the operators of the V-22 aircraft love the machine and its capabilities, while the safety record of the expensively re-designed aircraft is superior to the conventional rotary-wing aircraft it replaces.
This is all useful to remember as new programs like the F-35 moves through developmental testing.