Having earlier conducted concept validation flights, the Bell Boeing MV-22B Osprey is set to begin midair refueling trials early next year, with an aim of clearing the capability for service by 2020. Adding the ability to refuel other aircraft from the MV-22B will provide the Air Combat Element (ACE) of deployed Marine Expeditionary Units with an organic refueling capability to free the ACE from reliance on shore-based tankers or carrier-based Navy refuelers.
Using the Osprey as a tanker was first evaluated in 2013 when an F/A-18 Hornet flew in close proximity to a representative hose and drogue trailed from the rear ramp of an MV-22B without any issues. In October 2016 Cobham Mission Systems was contracted to develop the V-22 aerial refueling system (VARS), basing the equipment on the company’s FR300 hose drum unit (HDU).
The VARS is palletized so that it can be rolled on or off the Osprey as required. The MV-22 has been tested in the forward rapid refueling role on the ground, but VARS will allow the in-flight offload of around 4,535 kg (10,000 pounds) of fuel to receivers such as the F-35B, F/A-18, AV-8B, and CH-53, as well as other MV-22s. For now, the VARS is a U.S. Marines-only program.
In late 2019, the U.S. Navy is expected to receive the first two CMV-22B Ospreys for trials. The Navy has ordered 39 CMV-22Bs, to be primarily used for carrier onboard delivery duties as a replacement for the C-2 Greyhound. Compared with the Marines’ MV-22B, the Navy version has additional fuel in the wings and enlarged fuselage-side sponsons, HF radio, and a public address system in the cabin for when it is carrying passengers.
Production CMV-22Bs are scheduled to begin delivery in 2020, with initial fielding on carrier USS Carl Vinson planned for 2021. For both the Navy and Marine Corps, the V-22 is an integral element of supporting the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter at sea, as it is the only means of transporting the F-35’s engine power module to a carrier or “L-class” assault vessel.
To date, the Bell Boeing joint venture has delivered 289 of 360 Marine Corps MV-22Bs on order, and 50 of 54 CV-22Bs for U.S. Air Force special forces operations. Japan has ordered 17, the first five of which are due to be delivered next year.