The Osprey’s complicated history made everything harder
by JOSEPH TREVITHICK
In January 2015, the U.S. Navy decided to replace its fleet of traditional C-2 cargo planes with V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transports. At that time, the U.S. Marine Corps was flying MV-22Bs and the Air Force had its own CV-22Bs.
So, six months later, the sailing branch requested that its variant get a new name. Documents War Is Boring obtained through the Freedom of Information Act highlight the service’s main desire to avoid any confusion between its tilt-rotors and any of the other Ospreys versions.
“An appropriate designation would use either ‘M’ or ‘C’ for the Navy variant, however, the Marine and Air Force already use those designators,” Navy officials explained in a June 2015 letter. So, then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and his staff “provided verbal guidance” to solve the issue — just use both.
In January 2016, the Air Force — which has final say over these decisions across the Pentagon — approved the request. The Navy’s variant is now officially the supposedly less confusing CMV-22B.
But beyond just giving the planes a name, the decision acknowledged, at least in part, the Navy’s argument that its version wasn’t just another Osprey.
The Pentagon has official guidelines for the alphabet soup that is American military aircraft designations. The so-called Mission Design Series is a comprehensive set of rules for what letters to use and where to put them.
Under this system, in the case of the Osprey, C stands is for “cargo” and M for “multi-mission,” which can describe any combination of functions. The latter letter’s very purpose is to keep services from coming up with convoluted names like CMV-22B.
But the V-22 family’s monikers were already confusing before the Navy’s variant came along. It would be putting it mildly to say that the Osprey has been a controversial aircraft since its first flight in 1989.
To be sure, the twin-engine tilt-rotor — which can fly with the speed of a regular plane, but take off and land like a helicopter — offers a unique capability, but only if it works. For more than two decades, accidents and allegations of cover ups have dogged the V-22s.
Manufacturers Bell Helicopter and Boeing effectively changed the plane so much during its early development that the Pentagon changed the base name from V-22A to V-22B. In their official statements and press, the Marines and the Air Force often leave out the B part of the designation altogether.
The Navy briefly considered replacing its aging HH-46 rescue helicopters and SH-2 anti-submarine choppers with Ospreys. Officials dutifully set aside the names HV-22A and SV-22A for those models, respectively.
“H” is the letter for search and rescue and “S” denotes sub-hunting aircraft. After the Osprey’s initial redesign, the Pentagon carried over some of these plans on paper, reserving what had become HV-22B for the Navy.
But the Navy never bought any of these Ospreys, instead purchasing MH-60R and S choppers. The names only stayed on the rolls because no one ever asked to get rid of them.
By 2015, the sailing branch had very different plans for its V-22s and noted a “search and rescue” name would be inappropriate for a cargo plane. “This designation [HV-22B] was chosen for the purpose of customer distinction in the report,” the service added in its June 2015 message.
Separately, a potential typo on another page could suggest that at one point someone considered calling the naval models CV-22Cs. Greenert and his fellow officers probably felt that name would suggest their new plane was related to the Air Force model.
Regardless, as far as the Navy was concerned, their tilt-rotor would be significantly different from the existing V-22s. Most importantly, its aircraft needed extra range to fly from carriers sailing around the world to shore, or vice versa.
Putting the extra fuel necessary for those trips in the cargo bay would prevent the planes from carrying their cargo, such as emergency supplies and mail, or passengers. Bell and Boeing were already working on coming up with a solution to that problem, which would make the CMV-22B distinct from other versions, according to the Navy’s request.
The new variant would also have a high-frequency radio system and loudspeakers. The latter gear would help crews communicate with teams on a ship’s deck while moving cargo.
Unlike the C-2, the CMV-22B could potentially carry deliveries slung underneath from one ship to another like a helicopter. And the M part of the name always leaves open the possibility for the Navy to turn the planes into flying gas stations or armed commando transports, too.
Despite the process taking six months, the Air Force seems to have agreed with the Navy’s points. Its response only mentions the original request.
Of course, its final description of the new CMV-22B was a “extended range and avionics system variant” of the Marines’ MV-22B. It remains to be seen if the CMV-22B won’t get confused with the MV-22B and CV-22B.