Mar 19, 2008

Today's lesson in "pointless" 

Brought to you by... (sigh)... the United States Marine Corps...
MV-22 Ospreys headed to Iraq will soon be outfitted with a forward-firing gun, a top program official said.
The weapon, a 7.62mm mini-gun, is considered an interim system. The 800-pound gun — about the weight of three Marines with full combat loads — will be installed as a removable mission kit and operated by a controller inside the aircraft.
The only saving grace to the thing is that it's removable. I cannot for the life of me see a VMM squadron using these things at the cost of load and cargo space when it serves no practical function whatsoever. God help 'em when and if a gun gets bolted on permanently.

Sadly, this is the resurrected Frankenstein monster of two Commandants ago, Gen Jones, who said that the need for a forward firing gun was a "fundamental belief stemming from his Vietnam War experience." As I wondered at the time, and still wonder now, just what Vietnam was he fighting in where assault (read: troop carrier) helos had forward mounted guns? As soon as you strapped guns and rockets to a helo, you typically couldn't haul troops anymore and had turned the thing into an attack helo. In fact, what mass production troop carrying helo has EVER had a forward mounted gun? (Side note: Don't anybody dare bring up the Soviet MI-24 Hind or any of it's variants. Yes, by letter of the law, it could carry troops - eight, I think - and had a forward mounted gun. But for all practical purposes it was a ground attack platform and a damn good one. It didn't just have the gun. It had rockets, missiles, sharp sticks, etc, etc. Does anybody here think that the Osprey is fit for that role?)

As the Marines use assault helos now - the role that the Osprey has stepped into - they do not go anywhere where there might be trouble without an armed escort. There should never be such a thing as a "hot LZ" if you can help it. Those escorts should come in and clear the zone before the assault birds show up. Considering that NO OTHER ASSAULT HELO in our inventory - in over a half a century of helicopter aviation - has had a forward firing gun, and the need for one has never been great enough to strap one on and then make it carry troops too, why in the hell are we now going in that direction with the Osprey? Just because it flies like a plane up high doesn't change the fact that on approach to the LZ, it is - in fact - a helicopter. And the whole argument that it needs the gun to "keep heads down" as it leaves the LZ is preposterous. You know what a helo does when it's receiving fire from one side of an LZ? It gets up and leaves in the other direction. Now, I'm no rocket surgeon, but I'll just bet that an Osprey pilot (who used to be a helo pilot, nine times out of ten) is going to do - what a shock - the exact same thing!

Now, do I think that a gun for the Air Force version makes some sense? Yes, I do. "Why", you may ask? Ahhh. The difference lies in the mission set. Whereas the Air Force wants to send their CV-22 in as a Spec Ops insertion platform all by itself, the Marine Corps wants to use the MV-22 as an infantry assault aircraft that will typically have that entire protective package attached to it that I spoke of before. Could we send the thing in alone and unafraid? Of course we could. But if we were sending it in all by itself, it would be somewhere where there was a low threat and therefore the gun would be unneeded in the first place. Of course, the Air Force wouldn't want to drop off the "special kids" into a hot LZ either, but they would want to maintain the smallest signature possible, and therefore would be looking at that forward mounted gun as a self-escort last resort. If the Marine Corps was going to do the same thing, sure, put a gun on there - why not? But that was never the intention.

Do I think adding a gun to the Osprey is as big a mistake as taking the gun OFF Vietnam era fighter aircraft? Absolutely not. But I think it's wasteful, largely pointless, and simply one more thing for an aircrew to have to screw with during the high workload environment of putting a large aircraft into a landing zone - often a tight landing zone, at night, in some level of brownout. The Osprey has a shakey enough reputation as it is. Do we really need to be talking about strapping on new gear (and possibly new mission sets that gear allows for) before it's even finished it's first deployment? I mean, it's not like the program has been rushed along. Why start now?

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