Investigative Journalism that is as
Radical as Reality Itself.

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.



 

July 07, 2015
ANDRE VLTCHEK
In Ecuador, Fight for Mankind; In Greece, Fight for Greece!
Binoy Kampmark
Warrior Economist: the Varoufakis Legacy
Shamus Cooke
Unions Must Act Now to Survive Supreme Court Deathblow
Dave Lindorff
The Greek People Have Voted ‘No!’ to Austerity and Economic Blackmail
Mateo Pimentel
The Pope’s Letter: Neoliberalism and Fukushima
Raouf Halaby
Beware Those Who Speak With Forked Tongues
Ron Jacobs
The Grateful Dead: The Ship of the Sun Bids Farewell
Jonathan Cook
Hasbara Industry: Why Israel’s Army of Spin-Doctors is Doomed to Defeat
Colin Todhunter
The Warped World of the GMO Lobbyist
John Wight
Who Will Join With Greece?
Rev. William Alberts
Charleston: a Reality Check on Racism in America
W. T. Whitney
Colombia’s Fensuagro Union is Revolutionary, Persecuted, and Undaunted
Mel Gurtov
Keep It in the Ground, Obama
July 06, 2015
MICHAEL HUDSON
Greece Rejects the Troika
Steve Hendricks
Will FIFA’s World Cup Sexism Ever Die?
Binoy Kampmark
Oxi in Greece
Gareth Porter
How US Spin on Access to Iranian Sites has Distorted the Issue
Peter Bach
ISIL and Ramadan in the Rag
Paul Craig Roberts
A Rebuke to EU-Imposed Austerity
Robert Hunziker
Looking Inside Fukushima Prefecture
Quincy Saul
The View from Mount Olympus
ADRIENNE PINE, RICHARD JOHNSTON, FIONA WILMOT, et al.
Seven Reasons to Scrap the USA’s $1 Billion Aid Package to Central America
Norman Pollack
Capitalism’s Self-Revealing Practices
David Macaray
Could Justice Scalia Be the One to Rescue Labor?
Linn Washington Jr.
Storm Smashes Chris Christie’s Presidential Candidacy
Benjamin Willis
US and Cuba: What Remains to be Done?
Robert David Steele
The National Military Strategy: Dishonest Platitudes
Joan Roelofs
Whatever Happened to Eastern European Communism?
Weekend Edition
July 3-5, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Pentagon’s “2015 Strategy” For Ruling the World
Jason Hirthler
Going Off-Script in St. Petersburg
Rob Urie
Greece and Global Class War
DIMITRIS KONSTANTAKOPOULOS
The Future of Greece Without Illusions
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Ecuador Fights for Survival – Against its Elites
David Rosen
White Skin Crisis
Jerry Lembcke
Nobody Spat on American GIs!
Stavros Mavroudeas
The Greek Referendum and the Tasks of the Left
Michael Welton
The Tragedy of Harper’s Canada
Andrew Levine
Dumping on Dixie Again
Richard Pithouse
Charleston (It’s Not Over)
Arun Gupta
What Does It Mean to Call Dylann Roof a “Terrorist”?
Brendan McQuade
The Right Wing Resurgence and the Problem of Terrorism
Chris Floyd
Heritage and Hokum in Rebel Banner Row
Victor Rodriguez
Puerto Rico’s Economic and Fiscal Crisis: Made in the U.S.A.
John Halle
Four Thoughts on the Sanders Insurgency
John Feffer
ISIS and the Terrible Twos