The U.S. Navy and the Osprey: Still Bullish on the CMV-22B

By Robbin Laird

In a recent article by Ryan Finnerty published on February 20, 2024, published by Flight Global, the author argued that the USN is still bullish on the Osprey despite the recent grounding,

Finnerty quoted Admiral Melson as follows:

“I think we’re keen to get it back on the flightdeck as soon as we can,” said Rear Admiral Mark Melson, head of logistics in the Western Pacific, speaking at the Singapore show on 20 February.

“Melson, previously a flight officer on the Lockheed P-3 Orion and an amphibious assault ship commander, was unequivocal in his support for the Osprey.

“I operated with them on my ship, the USS Macon Island for three years,” he says. “I have complete confidence in the airplane.”

In my book on the Osprey in the Pacific, I highlighted how important the plane is to the way ahead for the fleet, notably in the Pacific.

This is an excerpt from that book:

The importance of the Osprey in the shift in con-ops was highlighted in an interview I did in April 2023 with a senior U.S. Navy commander. He emphasized that the Navy needs to be able to more effectively do intra-theater logistics and to do so with effective speed and survivability.

As the Admiral underscored: “If we are going to have distributed maritime operations, we better have the ability to support, battle damage repair, sustainment, and medical services provided at way more rapid than 20 knots.”

With the Navy needed to augment significantly over time its intra-theater logistics support, they are starting with the replacement of the C-2A Greyhound with the CMV-22B tiltrotor aircraft. The Admiral described this as a shift from a limited specialized support asset to having a distributed fleet support asset which provides for intra-theater logistics, a priority need.

But not only is the question of needs for logistics in contested operations, but also broader intra-theater logistics raises questions about the real numbers required. As the Admiral noted: ”I think also we might be more creative in our Osprey Con Ops, which would enable us to unlock some of our thinking on what else can be done.”

He conceptualized the shift as follows: “The COD was a tactical capability. The COD had a built-in operational inefficiency. Logistics was executed at the operational level. This unit needs X, Y, and Z based on their consumption. We then estimated they’re going to need x, y, z, and planned to these levels. We then assigned the COD as a small unit with low density and high demand supporting only carrier strike group, so that we could fill in the gaps that operational planning doesn’t account for and it will be a uniquely oriented machine that can land on our aircraft carriers and it can land on land.

“With an Osprey, we have a bigger footprint so that we are no longer a low density, high demand asset. Because the COD was a small, exquisite capability that we’re only going to use for one type of platform, we had small numbers which in turn affected availability of the asset. With the Osprey, we have all manner of platforms we can land on or service stations we can operate from. We are not committed to a tail hook and its limitations. This gives us logistics capability which allows us to make the choices about who needs to be resupplied and at what time, day, or night.”

The Osprey provides an important stimulant for the shift in con-ops whereby the Navy‘s experimentation with distributed operations intersects with the U.S. Air Force’s approach to agile combat employment and the Marine Corps’ renewed interest in Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO).

In other words, the reshaping of joint and coalition maritime combat operations is underway which focuses upon distributed task forces capable of delivering enhanced lethality and survivability.

The U. S. Navy’s deployed fleet — seen as the mobile sea bases they are – faces a significantly different future as part of a distributed joint force capable of shaping a congruent strike capability for enhanced lethality. This means not only does the fleet need to operate differently in terms of its own distributed operations, but also as part of modular task forces that include air and ground elements in providing for the offensive-defensive enterprise which can hold adversaries at risk and prevail in conflict.

The Navy’s version of the Osprey — the CMV-22B — is ideally suited to operate across this highly complex distributed combat chessboard. And, because the Marines have deployed the MV-22B for decades, there is a very robust operational and sustainment expertise already in the fleet. This means the CMV-22B can deliver core carrier logistics needs while also providing logistics support across the entire fleet – including the vital Military Sealift Command that will play an essential role.

As the fleet looks to enhance its lethality and survivability in a distributed maritime environment, there is no more critical capability than sustained logistics support in the contested battlespace.

This is how Rear Admiral Meyer, Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, put it with regard to how the Navy was reworking carrier operations in a way that highlighted this key logistics requirement: “The fact that our carrier strike groups can move 700-plus miles in a 24-hour period, the increasing range and lethality of our ever-advancing air wing and the weapons that those aircraft carry can hold huge areas of the surface at risk.

“Over the course of a three-day period, it would mean just a staggering volume of real estate, roughly the entire Pacific AOR over a 72-hour period. But it is that logistics support train that is really a key part that makes that happen.”

The CMV-22B can do this for the carrier-enabled distributed maritime force.

The featured photo: PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 17, 2023) A CMV-22B Osprey, assigned to the “Titans” of Fleet Logistics Multi-Mission Squadron (VRM) 30, flies over Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). Vinson, Carrier Strike Group 1’s flagship, is underway conducting routine operations in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Isaiah B. Goessl).