In the early 1980s while serving as assistant commandant and later as commandant of the United States Marine Corps, I was called upon - along with other members of the Pentagon leadership team - to make the type of far-reaching acquisition decisions that would arm our military services with the resources necessary to prevail in the conflicts of the 21stcentury. Our overarching concern was that the innovative weapons systems of tomorrow ensure that the forces of the future could meet the challenges of new types of missions in the harsh terrain of faraway countries against a diverse array of potential enemies.
The V-22 Osprey, an innovative aircraft that combines the best of both helicopter and airplane, was one of the programs under consideration. In combat conditions, the Osprey could move our Marines in and out of battle safer and faster than any of the helicopter options available then or even on the drawing board. It was clear that for the force of the future, an aircraft with game-changing capabilities was the smart choice. The decision to proceed with this forward-looking program was, and remains, one of the best acquisition decisions we made.
Fast-forward to 2011, with 132 V-22 aircraft currently in service: The Osprey has served with distinction in 14 highly successful deployments. From Iraq to Afghanistan, to humanitarian service in areas of Africa and Haiti that could not be reached by conventional helicopters, the Osprey has distinguished itself - and it has earned unprecedented high marks for safety, survivability and speed. For the past 10 years, the V-22 has earned the lowest mishap rate of any currently fielded Marine rotorcraft. In fact, studies by both industry and the government conclude that the V-22 is more operationally efficient than any helicopter alternative.
Not surprisingly, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has decided to maintain funding for the V-22 Osprey. This is the right choice. The V-22 has grown into a mature, successful aircraft that each day takes on many of our hardest combat missions. This remarkable aircraft is hard at work deploying and extracting personnel whose service to our nation takes them into harm’s way, combining the vertical landing and takeoff of helicopters with the speed, range and altitude of a turbo-prop airplane and the survivability of a state-of-the-art composite exterior.
As members of Congress debate the Pentagon’s funding priorities for 2012 and beyond, they would be wise to remember the strong record of service achieved by the V-22 Osprey. They should recognize that this unprecedented aircraft, now well into its maturity, is serving our nation both in combat and on critical humanitarian missions and has achieved a remarkable record for safety and effectiveness. The V-22 Osprey provides the flexibility that the men and women of our military need and deserve in order to serve in and survive combat and to successfully execute the ever-evolving mission requirements of today and tomorrow.
Gen. Paul X. Kelley served as commandant of the United States Marine Corps from 1983 through 1987.
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