NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and the U.S. Marine Corps have agreed to “present a united front” to industry on the need to overcome “challenges” with the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, AFSOC’s new commander said Sept. 21.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, who took the AFSOC helm about two months ago, revealed that he and Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the Marine Corps’ aviation chief, decided at a recent meeting to “walk lockstep” on the V-22.

The Air Force Association's Air, Space and Cyber Conference took place Sept. 19 to 21 in National Harbor, Md.
The Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference took place Sept. 19 to 21 in National Harbor, Md.

“Aircraft availability and utilization rates are not what we would expect,” Webb said at a press briefing at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference. “A lot of the focus is on the [engine] nacelle pieces. We really need to address this. It would go a long way toward [improving] aircraft availability.”

Built by Bell Helicopter Textron [TXT] and Boeing [BA], the Osprey has been operating in harsher-than-expected environmental conditions, such as large amounts of dust. As a result, about 60 percent of the maintenance AFSOC does on its CV-22 variant “is directly drawn to some components within the nacelle,” Webb told reporters. “We’re working that with industry right now.”

Other challenges facing AFSOC include trying to modernize equipment while continuously being at war in multiple places, according to the general. The command currently has more than 1,200 people and 62 aircraft deployed in 29 countries.

While most U.S. allies in Europe struggle with tight defense budgets, Webb, who previously served as commander of NATO Special Operations Headquarters in Belgium for about two years, was encouraged to see growing support among alliance members for special operations forces (SOF).

“SOF is on a positive upswing in Europe,” he said. “Just in my time in command there … no fewer than seven countries have acknowledged and stood up their own special operations commands and, with that, the requisite funding streams, which becomes really important when you talk about being able to get new technology to the special operator in a hurry.”

But SOF aviation remains a “hard one to crack” because aircraft are expensive and because countries that have such “precious” equipment prefer to dedicate their aviation assets to their own use instead of to NATO’s, he added.