The US Air Force Special Operational Command (AFSOC) is to develop a gunship variant of the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor that also has the US Marine Corps (USMC) interested, a senior service official revealed on 13 February.
Speaking at the Singapore Airshow at the Changi Exhibition Centre, USMC Lieutenant Colonel Eric Ropella, PMA-275 Program Manager International Programs, said that AFSOC is looking at developing a prototype gunship-version of its CV-22 aircraft, and that the USMC is following developments with regard to its MV-22.
"[AFSOC] is looking at a number of different options [in terms of weaponry and configurations] for a gunship. The marines are always interested in every new capability [for the V-22]," he said.
While the concept is still in its early stages, Col Ropella hinted that the CV-22 may be fitted with forward-firing missiles, but beyond that he did not reveal any further details. However, when asked about the possibility of high-energy weapons, such as lasers, being fitted, he said: "All things are on the table. Some engineers at NAVAIR [Naval Air Systems Command] probably have dreams about [lasers] on the V-22."
Given the V-22's tiltrotor configuration and nearly 12 m diameter rotorblades, forward-firing munitions could not be carried on underwing hardpoints. Instead, the aircraft would either have to employ ramp-mounted or cargo bay-stored canister munitions, similar to those carried by the USMC's KC-130J Harvest HAWK Hercules gunship, or sponson-mounted stub-wings.
A side-firing cannon/machine gun could be fitted, but this would involve some structural re-modelling as the V-22 does not have a paratrooper door on the left-side aircraft fuselage, and the door on the right side is located forward of the rotors, which would present safety issues for the aircraft.
The gunship is one of a number of special mission variant V-22s being considered, Col Ropella noted, with aerial refuelling (already demonstrated), command and control, surveillance, and executive transport roles also being explored. "There are a seemingly endless number of applications that exist [for the V-22]," he said.
With regard to the MV-22's current role, Col Ropella said that crisis response "is quickly becoming its bread and butter mission".
In May 2013, the USMC stood up a detachment of six MV-22s and two Lockheed Martin KC-130J aerial refuelling aircraft in southern Spain to respond to emergency contingencies within the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) area of responsibility. In addition to the aircraft, 500 marines and other personnel are on standby at Morón Air Base under the auspices of the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response (SP-MAGTF CR).
The SP-MAGTF CR has been created as a result of lessons learned following the death of the US Ambassador to Libya and three other staff members after militiamen overran the consulate in Benghazi. With unrest and instability continuing across North Africa, Col Ropella said that the duration of the mission has yet to be decided, although he noted that Morón will not be a permanent basing location for the USMC.