Does India need the V-22 Osprey? Need. That often powerless little word in the world of military modernisation globally — and certainly in India. Far more powerful impulses edge out straitlaced motivations like actual need in militaries. For instance, diplomatic necessity. Or, as a bite-the-bullet bridge to something bigger. Or, simply, want. So let’s re-frame that question: does India want the V-22 Osprey in any form? Well, here’s the thing. It’s complicated. And Livefist has some exclusive new information indicative of a structured plan Boeing is looking to pursue towards actually landing a deal for the Osprey in India.
India first solicited interest in the V-22 at the start of this decade in late 2010. First and second level of detail presentations were promptly made to the Indian Air Force. In 2012, Boeing confirmed that preliminary discussions were under way and that they saw a good deal of interest from India:
Preliminary discussions on V-22 on with India. We see a good deal of interest, says @BoeingDefense‘s Mark Kronenberg.
— Livefist (@livefist) July 25, 2012
In 2013, the Indian Navy joined the conversation, throwing a glance at the V-22 and thinking of it for the carrier logistics and re-supply role. The navy dialed the US Navy asking for price and availability data on the Osprey platform. In 2015, reports emerged that the Indian military (presumably the Indian Air Force) was interested in procuring six V-22s for ‘rapid troop insertion in border areas’. Things have swum along in the realm of information sharing and presentations so far, understandably with less than a fraction of the expense or aggression being poured into more concrete programmes like the F/A-18 Super Hornet or the successfully concluded Apache & Chinook deals. The V-22, after all, doesn’t address a direct, clearly defined requirement — nor would it immediately figure in a prospective list of aircraft purchase priorities. Nevertheless, Livefist learns there’s a serious campaign afoot.
Top sources at Boeing tell Livefist the company is aiming to bring India on board as an operator of the V-22 Osprey within the next decade — by 2025 to be precise. As part of ongoing shape and capture opportunities, which saw Japan sign on as the first international customer of the V-22 last year, Boeing is looking at 2025 as the year by which India should be a customer of the V-22. It is understood that airframes aimed at India will be from the third production tranche (called Multi-Year Procurement or MYP III) or the U.S. Marines MV-22 Common Configuration – Readiness and Modernization (CC-RAM) — a federal contract opportunity to beef up the Osprey, published earlier this year. This projection suggests Boeing is aiming at both a logistics-resupply role as well as a full-fledged special forces battlefield role for potential Ospreys in India. The U.S. Marine Corps, it has been known for a while, are looking to lethalize their MV-22s with a slew of arms add-ons, including rockets, mini-guns and missiles.
The U.S. Navy, currently validating the V-22 (it will ultimately be called the CMV-22B in naval service) for carrier on-board delivery to replace its C-2A Greyhound fleet starting 2018 has had hiccups. When your correspondent visited the U.S. Navy’s Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia earlier this month, Commander Scott Miller, an F/A-18 pilot with many tours on board aircraft carriers sounded skeptical about the Osprey. He highlighted two issues he saw as as big worries: the time it took for a V-22 to fold up (and that when it landed, it pretty much stopped all other air ops on deck), and the fact that its downward pointing nacelle exhaust plumes melted the flight deck surface coating on carriers during tests. Asked for a comment on these two issues, Rick Lemaster, Boeing’s Director, Global Sales & Marketing for Tiltrotor Programs said these were common ‘myths’ about the V-22. He said the Osprey folded up in 90 seconds, and a standard operating procedure had been evolved during carrier landings for Osprey pilots to oscillate the nacelles every few minutes to ensure there was no flightdeck burn. While this to-and-fro between the U.S. Navy and Boeing may be expected to continue, the question is of India.
The Indian Navy has been known for a while to want a variety of carrier-launched capabilities, chiefly logistics & resupply, but also carrier-launched airborne early warning and anti-submarine warfare. Boeing’s Lemaster confirms the programme has been lately looking at early warning radars and other kit that could convert the Osprey into an AEW/ASW/ASuW platform — part of what the U.S. Marine Corps wants for the aircraft anyway.
Starting with the P-8I deal of 2009 and C-17 deal in 2011, Boeing has had a relentlessly successful run with the Indian military, scoring big wins with twin rotorcraft deals with the Indian Air Force and Harpoon missiles for the Indian Navy. Several platforms like the V-22 wait in the wings as it were to service potential Indian interest. These include the AH-6i Little Bird and 737 AEW&C Wedgetail, both part of Boeing’s catalogue on the Indian table. Others like the InSitu Scan Eagle are part of active contests.
But the V-22 faces a combination of challenges in country — budget, acquisition priority in the medium term and a visible absence of any convincing reason to acquire the sort of capability that the Osprey offers to the Indian combat requirement vis-a-vis, say, what the incoming Chinooks would easily deliver. Then again, Boeing’s track record suggests they’ve been able to read Indian requirements and ‘capture’ them pretty well. And they’ve got a specific 2025 deadline to score.