STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. military will base up to 11 Osprey aircraft in the United Kingdom next year to support U.S. special operations forces missions that could encompass Europe, Southwest Asia and Africa, according to Special Operations Command Europe.
The aircraft, which will operate out of RAF Mildenhall, are expected to extend the reach of Europe-based U.S. commandos, many of whom are stationed at SOCEUR headquarters in Stuttgart.
The CV-22, a fixed wing, tilt-rotor transport aircraft, will be integrated into the United States Air Force 352nd Special Operations Group, the only Air Force special operations unit in the European Command. Roughly 300 servicemembers will deploy to the U.K. in support of the aircraft in addition to the 700 assigned to the group, according to military officials.
The addition of the Ospreys comes at a time when Special Operations Command is looking to bolster its forward presence around the globe.
“It makes a lot of sense to beef up SOCAF (Special Operations Command Africa) and SOCEUR, and to have that Osprey platform over there up and ready makes a lot of sense,” said Jim Gavrilis, a retired Green Beret officer and security consultant.
The Osprey, which can take off and land like a helicopter but fly like a plane, gives more flexibility to special operations forces, Gavrilis said.
“The SOF community does long-range missions, and they have to have that long-range capability,” Gavrilis said. “This gives them the ability to go farther and deeper.”
The ability to land like a helicopter means the Osprey can get to remote locations that planes can’t reach.
First used by the Marine Corps, Ospreys have caught the eye of the special operations community. The aircraft has been modified to meet the unique needs of commandos, who must be able to operate covertly, often at night and in bad weather.
The CV-22 variant used by special operators can travel 500 nautical miles “at or below 500 feet above ground level, locate a small landing zone, infiltrate and exfiltrate a team of 18 special operations forces, and return to base,” according to Globalsecurity.org, a clearing house on military technology.
Differences between the CV-22 and its Marine counterpart include special avoidance radar, an additional 900 gallons of fuel capacity, rope ladders, a survivor locator system, and additional radios and upgraded computers, according to Globalsecurity.
The Ospreys will replace USAF MH-53 Helicopters, which had been based at RAF Mildenhall until 2007. The Osprey’s help fill a capability gap felt since their departure.
While critics have raised questions about the safety record of the Osprey — an MV-22 recently crashed during a mission in Morocco killing two Marines — military officials say they are confident in the CV-22’s capabilities.
When they are not deployed in conflict zones or other expeditionary missions, the aircraft will be used to conduct training sorties from RAF Mildenhall, military officials said. The aircraft will arrive in phases, beginning in the spring of 2013.