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When it comes to transporting troops to/on a battlefield there is always one vehicle that comes to mind, the Chinook but there may be a new contender for this role: the V-22 Osprey.

The iconic and unique tilt-rotor design of the Osprey gives it the take off and landing potential of a helicopter but the flight characteristics of a plane; it truly is the best of both worlds.

There is debate about whether a purchase of Ospreys would be an enhancement to the UK’s capabilities or just an expensive replacement for the perfectly good Chinook.

Though while it is currently a moot debate as the funding is just not present to purchase a fleet of Ospreys, it is always worth considering potential options.

In a straight up comparison it is unclear which if the two aircraft is superior, as while the Osprey can fly further, faster and higher, it flies at almost double the cost of the Chinook as well as having half the troop carrying capability.

As a Chinook can carry up to 55 troops in one load while the Osprey would top out at 32 but that being said a Chinook does not usually carry 55 troops at a time.

But it is all well and good to be able to carry 55 troops but a Chinook could only take them approximately 200 nautical miles, as it has a maximum range of 400 nautical miles.

Whereas the Osprey has a maximum range of 879 nautical miles meaning it could transport troops just shy of 400 miles after take off; so the question is raised, is it more important to have more troops with a shorter range or less troops being deployed further?

Though the answer to that would lie with the operation that was to be undertaken as in combat everything changes and it can change quickly; so speed can be of the utmost to extract for reinforce troops.

Here the Osprey comes out on top again with a maximum speed of 275 knots (316 mph) compared to the Chinooks 170 knots (196 mph), so the Osprey could always get to the designated point quicker.

Yet this all comes at an extra cost, the Osprey costing a whooping $72 million (£52 million) per aircraft compared to the $39 million (£30 million) for a Chinook. But the purchase price is just the start as the operating costs are vastly different.

An Osprey costs $11,000 (£8500) per hour to fly, compared to just $4,600 (£3500) for a Chinook yet it is worth noting for all the extra money the Osprey does have extra capabilities.

One of the most important of these is that they can serve as carrier borne mid-air refuelling aircraft which would serve to extend strike ranges for F-35s if we were to use them on our carriers.

They can also serve as Anti-Submarine Warfare or Airborne Early Warning platforms but then this is a role currently covered by the Merlin fleet.

This means that the Osprey while excelling in many areas and out-performing current vehicles, does offer the UK and other nations substantial improvements. But this all comes at an extra cost and an expensive one at that.

Where 24 V-22 Ospreys could be bought the UK could buy 48 Merlin HM.2s and 35 Lynx Wildcat helicopters which not only fulfil the same capabilities (except mid-air refuelling) but give a greater fleet size which in turn gives much more force flexibility.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Once the AAR and EAW are fully working its the force multiplication on the carriers which seals the argument for me. But what seals the reality is that no party has any plans to properly fund the military and we have a huge black hole in existing plans. Until that changes any hopes for this capability are DOA

  2. I think the osprey would be well served in a casevac role over the chinook. It’s ability to fly faster would be essential in evacuating casualties to more definitive care from the battle field.

  3. Interesting article. I agree with you Ian, AAR & EAW are the most exciting uses, plus special forces where range and speed might be a significant issue and high volume troop movement not a requirement so don’t need big numbers.

    For more mass movement of troops what the article reminds me of (yet again) is how sub-optimal it is to have PoW as the replacement for Ocean. 200 mile combat radius on Chinook and just a bit more on Merlin (about 225 I think) puts the carriers too close to shore if any sort of meaningful inland reach is required. Adopting V-22 to patch over that issue seems madness when Merlin carries more and is so much cheaper. Better to look at more appropriate ways to replace lost Ocean capability as we were discussing in another comments section (e.g. converting a couple of Points or clever MARS SSS design and build a couple more).

    The other interesting snippet in the article for me was that Merlin is cheaper than Wildcat. I didn’t know that, I’d always assumed it was the other way round. Interesting.

  4. Can a chinook not have a RORO refuelling rig and do that job for the carriers?

    If it can then I will go with the chinook – otherwise we should see if we can part exchange with Boeing and move the whole fleet to Osprey – for me its an all or nothing decision.

    Boeing may well do us a deal as its a powerful marketing tool to have the uk using the V22, but this is clearly going to need some goodwill on the USA’s part.

    As Ian has pointed out. – no budget means no V22

    • Currently nothing that can fly off the QE classes can do refuelling duties. The idea of the V22 doing it, is just that, an idea. The difference is the USMC is toying with the idea and have the money to invest in it happening, which would make it cheaper for us as a subsequent customer.

      Right now, we need to invest in speeding up the f35 numbers to make sure we have a viable air group at some point in the near future, rather than in a decade or so time.

      • Hi Steve

        A Chinook can fly off the QEC – and if this rig is RORO would it not be sensible to pursue this as an option. It’s also within our DNA to create a solution like this against our cost constraints.

        I think there may be a speed issue that may prevent an F35 slowing down enough to take on fuel – but if not it would be ok would it not.

        • I think speed is the issue but if it isn’t then I agree 100%, Chinook would be a good solution. The question though is that the USA builds and operates a gazillion Chinooks so wouldn’t they be pursuing that solutionif it was viable? I suppose it might be a case of “politics, dear boy” but it does make me suspect that it is because Chinook is not viable but V-22 is.

          • USMC have a different mix. They use Stallions for heavy lift and V22 for speed and flexibility but crucially both are marinised with folding rotors where as Chinook has neither.

          • Chinook won’t have the speed. The f35s would stall of they were being refueled at it’s speed.

  5. Two points to make directly related to the mid air refueling. The MV-22B has already tested the RoRo rig created by Boeing in house. It is not an idea, it is a working system. Secondly, the F-35B can most definitely slow down to Chinook speed, as it can hover. However, there are two VERY untested conditions that more than likely prevent this from ever happening: the down wash from the Chinooks rotors pushing the refueling basket down into an unusable position. Also, the F-35B in STOVL mode with all its doors open and fans on, with the refuel probe extended trying to plug the basket…….. don’t think it can be done.

    -Woog

  6. One of the valuable advantages is the chinooks ability to transport heavy load underslung…..something i expect that would be lost with the osprey?

  7. Stop the Bus of course we buy the V -22 24 X Ospreys would be great just what the UK needs sod the cost we need them on the QE we have nothing for COD / F35 Refueling and we can use them for AEW perfect aircraft get them ordered we could s@&tcan the crowsnest. they can carry replacement engines for F 35
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfkDfDhJ_JA

    Get it done UK

  8. Its not worth it. The cost of buying a couple of dozen and setting up the training and spares piplines would be huge and the only real gain is AAR for the carriers. Dont need it to carry F-35B engines as the new FSS ships can RAS them to CVF. Dont need them for AEW (yes thet fly higher but Merlin is adequate and cheaper). As for the AAR do we really need it? Need being the important word. CVF is not going to be attacking Russia or China. The range on F-35B is probably good enough for what we need ie CAP or bombing 2nd tier opponents. For example a (very unlikley) rerun of Operation Corporate would not require AAR. Yes it would help but we managed fine withoutit and F-35B has better range than Harrier already. I would much prefer a few extra Merlin to relieve pressure on the stretched fleet than the introduction of another aircraft type with all that entails. Or MK41 on the Type 45s. At £52 million a pop 24 would cost around £1.25 billion and thats just the aircraft. It would cost even more to make the capability relevant (spares/training) for that kind of outlay we could get an 8th Astute! Lets be generous and say £1.5 billion for the 24 aircraft and other set up costs. What else can we get for that? £1.5 billion to extend the range of 24 F-35Bs on the active carrier seems crazy to me.

    • I think the issue of RAS carrying replacement engines is very valid. Interestingly one of the F-35 pilots said the other day that he didn’t think the Osprey would touch the sides for AAR.

  9. Put to one-side the obvious impossibility of cost; in its assault role, the increased range/speed and capability of this one facet of your mobility force, make it’s use limited to only certain missions, as compared to the bulk of missions?

  10. What no one seems to have considered is the underslung load capability of the chinook. It is a large part of the job. Troops need resupplying, they need artillary to support them. You cannot carry external loads at 275 knots under an Osprey, if it can carry them at all. You can also carry small vehicles etc inside the Chinook.

  11. Combat sar is an area where the Chinook’s limited range may be an issue for carrier ops. It’s very clear why the UK is keen to offer the QEs as a base for USMC F35s, in the hope that they bring some V22s along with them.

  12. Once upon a time many years ago in a far off land called ’60s & 70s UK’ they operated intense CATOBAR carrier operations and used Buccaneers to refuel other Buccaneers and Phantoms in ‘Buddy Up’ AAR.

    So rather than buying hugely expensive V-22s what price using our (5?) F-35 T & E aircraft now in the USA which will be redundant in a couple of years and converting them to AAR tanking functions as they are not capable of combat operations and will be too expensive to upgrade for that role? With their built in sensors they could also complement the AEW range of Crowsnest at no extra cost.

    But knowing our MoD they will just park them somewhere to quietly rot away. After all its only taxpayer money …..

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