Fatal helicopter crash won't change Navy's plans to purchase more

The Navy is moving forward with its plan to purchase more V-22 Osprey aircraft despite last week’s deadly crash in Africa. 

"The value of the [Osprey] requirement ... and the multiyear is a clear reason to go ahead with the plan," Marine Corps Col. Greg Masiello, V-22 joint program manager, said on Monday.

Masiello said the value of the Osprey to the service has not changed despite the accident Wednesday in Morocco that killed two U.S. troops and left another hospitalized. The crash occurred in the southern Moroccan province of Tan Tan during a joint training exercise of U.S. Marines and the Moroccan military. 

The service did not suspend Osprey operations after the accident, and Masiello said the Marine expeditionary unit assigned to the exercise is still on active flights status.

Masiello declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation into the crash during his speech Monday at the Navy League's annual symposium. But he noted there was "no indication" that a suspension of the Osprey fleet was needed, based on preliminary inquiries.

"I don't think anyone takes safety lightly," he said, adding that Navy and Marine Corps officials remain "extremely confident" the V-22 is operationally sound.

He said that confidence would be reflected in the Navy’s effort to lock in a multi-year procurement deal for the V-22 on Capitol Hill.

The Navy pursued a number of multiyear contracts in the fiscal 2013 budget proposal that was sent to Capitol Hill. Along with the V-22 Osprey, service leaders are pursuing multiyear deals for the Virginia-class submarine and the Arleigh-Burke class of destroyers.

The multi-year deals guarantee a contractor steady work and can help the Navy spread costs and generate savings.

The vote of confidence in the Osprey comes after the Navy indefinitely shelved the Fire Scout aerial drone following recent crashes in Africa and Afghanistan. All 14 of the helicopter-like drones, which are flown off the decks of U.S. warships, have been taken off duty while system performance and operational procedures are reviewed, the Navy said in a statement.

Masiello said the Osprey  — which takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies like a plane — would soon have an important job off the battlefield, helping to transport VIPs to and from the White House.

Marine Corps Ospreys will begin carrying Secret Service agents, presidential staff and members of the White House press corps in the coming years. The Ospreys will fly alongside the president's Marine One helicopter in support of White House flight operations, according to Masiello.

The Osprey crash in Morocco last week marred the Marine Corps' recent record of incident-free flight operations.

The early days of the Osprey's development were plagued by mechanical failures and a slew of accidents. An Osprey crash in April 2000 killed 19 Marines when the aircraft rolled over sideways while landing during a training exercise.

Marine Corps investigators blamed the incident on pilot error, but advocates on Capitol Hill, led by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), are leading a campaign to clear the names of the Marine Corps pilots involved. Jones claims the persistent mechanical failures in the early days of the Osprey program led to the accident, but Marine leaders say the matter is closed.

— This story was updated at 2:03 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.