Ospreys help Marines protect, assist our allies – on Okinawa and beyond
By BRIG. GEN. STEVE R. RUDDER | | Published: July 17, 2014
The MV-22B Osprey, a tilt-rotor aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter, has operated in the Asia-Pacific theater for nearly two years, and with it has come amazing benefits for the Japan-U.S. alliance and for partner nations where the Osprey operates.
While the Osprey was newly introduced in Japan in 2012, the squadrons are not additions to the Marine Air Group. They simply replaced, with a one-for-one swap, an older less-capable aircraft, the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter. The CH-46 Sea Knights served us well for 50 years, including service in Vietnam, and the time for replacement had come throughout the Marine Corps. Starting 10 years ago on the East Coast of the U.S. at Camp Lejeune, N.C., then on the West Coast of the U.S. at Camp Pendleton, Calif., the Osprey came into service as we systematically replaced CH-46 Sea Knights.
Ospreys have served across the world, in combat and humanitarian situations including service in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Haiti and many other places. Finally, beginning the replacement in October 2012 and completing it last year, the very newest and best Ospreys — with highly trained and experienced pilots, crews and maintenance teams — came to Okinawa, putting the best and most modern equipment we have to offer in Japan where they can best serve the people of Japan and the region as a whole.
The reason for the leap in capability is seen when you look at what the Osprey can do compared with the older Sea Knight it replaced. The Osprey can travel twice as fast, carry three times as much, and go four times farther than the Sea Knight. In addition, it can refuel in midair, extending its range indefinitely.
This is not just a strategic benefit for the Japan-U.S. alliance; it is also a considerable benefit for Okinawa, where some of the Ospreys in the Asia-Pacific theater operate. One benefit to having such a long flight range is the ability to regularly go outside Okinawa prefecture for exercises and training events, increasing our ability to partner with regional allies and friends while giving the pilots valuable training experience. That reduces the amount of time the Ospreys spend on Okinawa. For well over a year, Ospreys have been used during training in mainland Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, Guam and across the seas as they deployed aboard the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. Local residents on Okinawa have told us that they do not see nearly as many Ospreys around as they used to see Sea Knights! It is not because they are not being utilized, but because they are being used so much more and farther away from Okinawa. With the Sea Knight, that could not be done because of their limited range.
As an example of the capability benefits brought by the Osprey, during Operation Tomodachi our Sea Knights responded to northeastern Japan. They took approximately three days to reach the region, having to refuel and island-hop the entire way. Had Ospreys been stationed on Okinawa at the time, the response time would have been much faster.
In fact, during Operation Damayan, Ospreys flew about the same distance — 1,118 miles — to the Philippines in three hours. The Ospreys evacuated 1,200 people and delivered more than 20 tons of supplies to remote areas where neither traditional airplanes nor helicopters could reach. That gives you an idea of the tremendous capability the Osprey brings.
Simply put, the Osprey can respond faster and farther to any situation where we might be called, including our most frequent mission — humanitarian assistance and disaster response. The Osprey is the ideal aircraft to respond to a disaster or any remote area because it can go so far and fast, carry a great deal of supplies or personnel, and it does not need a runway to land.
The Osprey is also quieter than the helicopters we operate — partly because it can quickly convert to airplane mode. While in helicopter mode, the sound it creates is generally quieter than that of any Marine Corps helicopter as depicted in the 2012 noise study. And when it switches to airplane mode, the sound becomes even less. Because the aircraft is much more fuel efficient in airplane mode, and can go much faster, we convert to aircraft mode quickly, making for a faster departure from Okinawa than the Sea Knight ever could. In addition, the Osprey can fly much higher than other rotary aircraft, making for a quieter experience for people on the ground as well. Local residents and leaders around Marine Corps Air Station Futenma tell us the air station is much quieter than before the Ospreys arrived.
The state-of-the-art technology that the Osprey uses is transferable to our ultra-modern Osprey flight simulators, allowing our pilots to conduct many of their training sessions in the simulator on the ground, which could not be done with the CH-46 Sea Knights. That reduces the number of training flights.
The Osprey is also very safe, with an excellent record demonstrating it is one of the safest aircraft in the entire U.S. Department of Defense. All major systems on the aircraft — including the computer, navigation, hydraulics and fuel systems — are triple-redundant, meaning that it has its backup systems backed up. Keeping safety as a top priority, maintenance is executed with care, diligence and oversight. Our professional crews — who are well-versed in international flights standards — maintain high performance standards and are also diligent in implementing local agreements pertaining to flight paths and noise abatement.
The U.S. Marine Corps is the world’s most reliable crisis response force, and the speed and ability of our response is because we always train as a Marine Air-Ground Task Forces, or MAGTF. This MAGTF is always composed of air, ground and logistics elements operating together, and it is what makes the Marine Corps so efficient at crisis response. With the Osprey as part of that MAGTF, our overall response ability is significantly strengthened.
The Osprey has gathered many supporters, especially here on Okinawa. Each year we open every base to the public, and invite friends and neighbors to see how Marines live and work. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma opened its gates in June during the annual Futenma Flightline Fair. This was the second year we had the MV-22 Osprey on display, and again this year we had thousands of visitors. The one aircraft that everyone wants to see is the Osprey, and we received many positive comments, as well as answered numerous questions from Okinawans who told us the local media has not provided them with accurate information.
We have even seen the establishment of the Okinawa Osprey Fan Club, the Fence Clean Project, the Heart Clean Project and Operation Arigato, which have thousands of members. Members gather regularly outside the gates of MCAS Futenma to thank our Marines for their service and to voice their support for the U.S.-Japan defense alliance. I want to thank them for their willingness to express their appreciation.
For more than six decades, the Japan-U.S. security treaty has provided peace, security and prosperity to not only our great nations, but also to the entire Asia-Pacific region and the larger international community. I believe the Osprey has tremendously contributed to making the U.S.-Japan defense alliance and our combined abilities the strongest they have ever been.
Brig. Gen. Steve R. Rudder is commanding general of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, which is headquartered on Camp Foster, Okinawa. For more information on the MV-22 Osprey, please visit: www.okinawa.usmc.mil/MV22/MV22.html.