The Defense Department’s V-22 Osprey program is exploring a potential “mid-life upgrade” effort that could begin in the late 2020s, a key official said April 14.

The possible refurbishment of the Bell Helicopter Textron [TXT]-Boeing [BA] tilt-rotor aircraft could include updates to the electrical system, aircraft structure and wiring, said Marine Col. Dan Robinson, the V-22 program manager. Robinson described the review as a “prudent” step for an aircraft that achieved its first initial operational capability, with the Marines, almost eight years ago.

A V-22 during the tests to fire rockets forward. Photo: Bell Boeing
A V-22 during the tests to fire rockets forward. Photo: Bell Boeing

“We’re going to work with our industry counterparts to see what’s in the realm of possible, and then, obviously, budget comes into play,” Robinson said at a media briefing at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition.                                                                                                          

The program also continues to explore adding new capabilities to the transport aircraft, including aerial refueling, weapons and digital interoperability.

“Many folks are looking at what else the V-22 can do,” Robinson told reporters.

Having the V-22 refuel fighter jets would ease the burden on the Marine Corps’ overtaxed KC-130 tankers, Robinson said. He noted that Bell and Boeing conducted a summer 2013 flight demonstration in which a V-22 extended and retracted a refueling drogue as F/A-18s flew nearby.

“The Marine Corps would like to have this capability in the summer of 2017 to meet the first Marine expeditionary unit deploying on the F-35,” he said.

The Air Force is interested in “forward firing weapons with some standoff range” that can suppress enemy forces before V-22s enter an operational zone, while the Marines are looking to aim precision-guided weapons using enemy location information provided by other platforms, Robinson said. He noted that in a Bell-Boeing demonstration late last year, the V-22 fired guided and unguided rockets and Raytheon [RTN] Griffin B missiles.

Digital interoperability could allow the V-22 to collect video from an unmanned aircraft and share it with troops before they leave the Osprey, according to Robinson.

Robinson said the program, which has amassed more than 250,000 flight hours, is pleased with the V-22’s current engine, the Rolls Royce [RR] AE1107C, but continues to study whether better engines or components are available.

The Marine Corps and Air Force Special Operations Command are buying 360 MV-22 and 52 CV-22s, respectively. Of those, 232 MV-22s and 43 CV-22s are in service. In addition, the Navy recently indicated it plans to acquire 44 V-22s to replace its C-2 Greyhound cargo aircraft, with deliveries scheduled to start in fiscal year 2020.