The Air Force Special Operations variant of the V-22 Osprey this week will begin its operational test and readiness review (OTR&R)–a comprehensive examination of all the developmental testing done on the CV-22, a program official said.

Once OTR&R is completed, the aircraft will have one more hurdle to get over before entering its initial operational capability (IOC) phase, and that is initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E), James Darcy, V-22 program office spokesman, told Defense Daily recently.

For the CV-22, the stated IOC threshold is first quarter calendar year ’09, he said.

Bell Helicopter Textron [TXT] and Boeing [BA] build the Osprey.

What makes the CV-22 IOT&E different from the Marine Corps’ MV-22 operational evaluation (OPEVAL) is the focus on the systems of the mission, Darcy said.

The CV-22 can take advantage of all of the operational testing previously done on the MV-22, but what remains to be done is the "operational testing on those systems and mission profiles that are CV-22 unique," Darcy said.

Those systems include the terrain following/terrain avoidance radar, the suite of integrated radio frequency countermeasures, and the directional infrared countermeasure (DIRCM).

"Those are the three most conspicuous system differences," Darcy said. "Then there are some other differences, slight weight difference between the two aircraft, difference in the fuel configuration–the CV can carry just a bit more fuel than MV can, the cabin is [also] configured a little bit differently."

The key performance parameters for the CV-22 are also a bit different than for the Marine Corps version, Darcy noted.

The CV-22 is designed for Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) infiltration and exfiltration. Like the MV-22, it will also have a crew of four (pilot, co-pilot and two flight engineers). However, unlike the MV-22, the Air Force variant will only carry 18 personnel onboard, six fewer than the MV-22 will carry, Darcy said.

The Air Force will get 50 CV-22s compared to the Marine Corps, which will receive 360 aircraft.

Having fewer aircraft will mean the Air Force is going to have to approach IOT&E differently than the Marine Corps.

VMX-22, the Marine Corps’ V-22 operational test squadron, conducted OPEVAL in summer ’05 and did Block B testing in the February-March ’07 time frame.

Block A Ospreys were a training configuration, whereas Block B is the combat variant.

AFSOC is going to execute IOT&E with three Ospreys, the first three aircraft with the 8th Special Operations Squadron from Hurlburt Field, Fla.

"So crews from the 8th will fly IOT&E. So part of their build-up as a squadron has been of late doing both their normal training missions to train as an AFSOC combat squadron but also to get ready for IOT&E," Darcy explained.

IOT&E will be run by the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Command, he added.

The current CV-22 community currently consists of three developmental test assets and there are four CV 22s that make up the training squadron with the 71st Special Operations Squadron at Kirtland, AFB, N.M., Darcy said. "That’s the whole of the CV 22 community right now."

The Air Force is looking to accelerate the combat debut of the CV-22 Osprey to avoid a decrease in the vertical-lift capabilities available to the special operations community as the service’s remaining MH-53 Pave Low helicopters are phased out over the next 18 months, Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley said last week at the Air Force Association’s 2007 Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition in Washington, D.C. (Defense Daily, Sept. 27).

"In light of the slow production rate, we are looking at options to deploy the CV-22 pre-initial operational capability," Moseley said.

Last month, the Marine Corps deployed the first 10 MV-22s to the USS Wasp (LHD-1). Those aircraft are headed to the Middle East.

As part of that deployment, the Air Force has sent two AFSOC Osprey crew along to collect lessons learned from the initial Osprey deployment, Darcy said.

"Everything the Marine Corps finds out from having the aircraft in actual combat operations, we want to take those lessons and rapidly integrate them into the CV side," he said.