FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Franken Plane

by ROBERT BRYCE

It’s the Franken plane. No matter how many times the V-22 crashes, no matter how many people it kills, no matter how much it costs, the tiltrotor aircraft known as the Osprey just keeps on sucking down taxpayer dollars. The tab thus far: a staggering $18 billion.

The V-22 mess would be safely flying under the radar if not for three recent events: the March 27 crash of yet another V-22, an early April report by the Government Accountability Office that points out the aircraft’s myriad problems, and the most scandalous bit of all — an emergency spending bill now pending before Congress that provides an additional $230 million for the aircraft at the expense of more pedestrian items like night vision goggles that might help save the lives of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There may be no single weapon in the U.S. military’s arsenal that has a worse record of safety, performance, cost inflation and just plain uselessness than the V-22. And yet the program continues to garner billions of dollars.

The March accident happened at Marine Corps Air Station New River in North Carolina. A V-22 was warming its engines when, without warning, the machine jumped several feet into the air and slammed to the ground on its right wing. No one was injured in the accident, which the Marines are blaming on “uncommanded engine acceleration.” Sources close to the situation tell me that the $110 million aircraft was a complete loss. So far, neither Bell Helicopter, nor Boeing, the two companies who make the V-22, have bothered to offer a good explanation for the accident.

Thus far, about six dozen copies of the V-22 have been produced. Of that number, five V-22s and one prototype have crashed. Those accidents have killed 26 Marines and four civilians.

The V-22 could easily be replaced by standard helicopters like Sikorsky’s new S-92 model, which costs about one-fourth that of a V-22. But the Marine Corps ­ which has enormous political clout in Congress — loves fancy gadgets like the V-22. In particular, the Marines like horsepower and the speed that comes with it. And the V-22 has 12,300 horsepower ­ nearly four times as much as that of the CH-46, the Vietnam-era helicopter it is supposed to replace. The V-22 also weighs twice as much and uses about three times more fuel than the CH-46. But all of those numbers may be irrelevant. Here’s the most important one: although plants in Texas and Pennsylvania build most of the V-22, the parts for the aircraft come from manufacturers in 43 states.

The GAO, in its typical bloodless language, said that “emergency dual engine failures in the conversion/vertical take-off landing mode below 1,600 feet above the ground are unlikely to be survivable.” In plain English, that means that if the V-22 gets into serious trouble, like say, its engines get shot out, anywhere between the ground and 1,600 feet of altitude ­ the zone which just happens to be where helicopters spend much of their time — all of the people on board will be riding home in body bags.

That’s a stunning evaluation particularly given the U.S. military’s stated goals. In January, the U.S. Army’s aviation chief, Paul Bogosian, while discussing the many helicopters that have been lost in Iraq, announced that helicopter survivability “has become a top priority” for the military.

So just how survivable is the V-22? This is where it gets really good. The GAO report flatly states that the V-22, despite more than two decades of funding from the Pentagon still doesn’t have any way to protect itself from bad guys on the ground with guns. The GAO said, that “Survivability recommendations included the need to install and test a defensive weapon.”

There you have it: despite billions of dollars in taxpayer investment, Bell and Boeing can’t be bothered with trying to figure out how to install a gun ­ any kind of gun ­ onboard their fancy tiltrotor flying (or rather, crashing) machine. Thus, the aircraft — which must fly slowly and carefully when landing and taking off due to its inherent instability — becomes an easy target for insurgents on the ground. And they don’t have to worry about anybody onboard the V-22 shooting back at them.

Finally, there’s the April 21 story by the AP’s Andrew Taylor, who reports that the Senate Appropriations Committee is planning an emergency spending bill that will provide more funding for the V-22 even though it means cutting funding for items like goggles, and more important reduce the availability of equipment needed “for destroying mines and explosives.”

Roadside bombs are the single biggest threat to American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They account for about 60 percent of all combat deaths and about half of all nonfatal injuries to U.S. troops in Iraq. And yet, in order to keep the money flowing to Bell, which will likely go bankrupt if the V-22 program is cancelled, the roadside bomb problem is being ignored.

As scandalous as all of the above sounds, here’s the real scandal: Next year, the Marines are going to deploy a few V-22s to Iraq. That’s when the costs will really add up. And those bills will be paid for with the lives of American soldiers.

ROBERT BRYCE is the author of Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America’s Superstate.

 

 

 

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors: When in Doubt, Bomb Syria
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Carol Norris
What Do Hillary’s Women Want? A Psychologist on the Clinton Campaign’s Women’s Club Strategy
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Jeff Mackler
Friedrichs v. U.S. Public Employee Unions
Franklin Lamb
Notes From Tehran: Trump, the Iranian Elections and the End of Sanctions
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Wolfgang Lieberknecht
Fighting and Protecting Refugees
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Missy Comley Beattie
When Thoughtful People Think Illogically
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail