Last week in Wired.com’s Danger Room, David Axe gave a USAF mishap investigation team a harrowing over their report of an Elmendorf-based F-22 crash. The mishap report itself seemed to me fair, factual and rational. Mr. Axe’s response, less so. This week he has the Marine Corps MV-22 in his cross-hairs in a post entitled “Controversial Marine Tiltrotor Fights Its First Gun Battle.”
Now, the Osprey used to be fairly controversial in military circles ten to twenty years ago, back when the design was in test and evaluation. There was a nacelle fire that killed seven crewmen in 1992, and a crew explored the vortex ring state phenomenon to their mortal peril in April 2000, killing 19 Marines. Four more were killed in December of that same year when a previously undiscovered software fault left the machine uncontrollable. Since then, there has been one combat loss in Afghanistan that took four lives, and left 16 injured. That was in 2010.
In 2001, a Marine commanding officer was relieved for cause after his squadron had been found dithering the maintenance logs to make the airplane’s reliability figures look better. That was pretty controversial, ten years ago.
Since then, the Osprey has flown 100,000 flight hours over 14 deployments and is the safest aircraft in the Marine Corps inventory, according to Loren Thompson:
Over the last ten years, the V-22 mishap rate has been about half the average for the entire Marine aircraft fleet, and it is currently the lowest of any rotorcraft in that fleet. These averages are adjusted to reflect time actually flown, so it really is a surprisingly safe aircraft, considering it only recently entered service. New airframes usually have higher mishap rates than aircraft that have been operated for many years. Of course, none of this would matter if the Osprey couldn’t do much, but in fact it is living up to its potential for versatility, conducting everything from night raids and medical evacuations in Afghanistan to logistical support and humanitarian assistance in Haiti. It is also proving to be the most flexible airframe employed by Air Force special operators, who use it for an array of harrowing combat and rescue missions. Readiness rates for the Marine version are around 70 percent, which is quite respectable for a new and novel airframe.
Dr Thompson, for those of that may not be familiar with the man, is the COO of the non-profit Lexington Institute, and “was Deputy Director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and taught graduate-level courses in strategy, technology and media affairs at Georgetown. He has also taught at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Thompson holds doctoral and masters degrees in government from Georgetown University and a bachelor of science degree in political science from Northeastern University.”
But let us get back to Mr. Axe: In his “controversial” article, an MV-22 successfully resupplied hard-pressed Marines in combat, directed other aviation fires, and used its ramp gun for the first time on egress to suppress Taliban positions. A pretty good hop.
But let us paraphrase the words Mr. Axe uses to color the event: accident prone, maintenance intensive, vulnerable, and “terrifyingly” unarmored. In fact, the successful resupply mission is used as a canvas upon which Mr. Axe paints a picture wholly inconsistent with the event itself, not to mention the aircraft’s recent track record. It would have been so much better a story had the plane crashed, but no. We’re not so lucky.
I searched in vain to determine Mr. Axe’s credentials, his military experience, where he went to school, what level of educational attainment he received, what work he had hitherto done. What, in essence, qualifies him to pick and poke at the services in the way he so evidently enjoys in such a high profile venue. This what I found:
David Axe is a military correspondent living in Washington, D.C. Since 2005 he has reported from Iraq, Lebanon, East Timor, Afghanistan and Somalia. He is a regular contributor to Wired, The Washington Times, C-SPAN and BBC Radio, among many other outlets. His graphic novel war memoir WAR FIX made Amazon’s 2006 top ten list. He is the author of ARMY 101, a nonfiction account of Army ROTC in wartime.
His online history starts in 2005. Been to lots of places. Contributes to lots of portals. Wrote a book about Army ROTC in wartime. But what public person, in the 21st century, has a biography so opaque? And why?
I just don’t know.