Friday, May 01, 2009

. . .But Can it Cure Swine Flu?

One of the more interesting aircraft of the past 20 years may be headed to Afghanistan. While not the most attractive of aircraft, the V-22 Osprey is definitely one of the more ambitious vehicles currently in use. Combining the manuverability and hovering capacity of a helicopter with the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft, the Osprey has been seen by many in the military as a jack of all trades and seems to be an ideal fit for the Marines specifically.

But the V-22 Osprey has had a checkered past and has been used as a poster child for over-budget military projects. In 1986 the projected budget for the development of a tiltrotor aircraft was about $2.5 billion, a large amount of money by most standards but in the context of military toys it was relatively small. Soon after the budget was increased to about $30 billion and as of 2008 the amount spent on the Osprey was close to $28 billion. Estimates on how much will be needed before the project can be considered complete put the final total somewhere in the ballpark of $60 million. On many occasions (usually following a high profile accident) the program was put on the chopping block. However the Osprey has managed to keep its head above water and has become the subject of praise by military officials especially in the discussion of deploying the Osprey in Afghanistan.

The case of the Osprey may make the decision to cut over-budget programs more difficult. Between the mishandling of the program and the high profile accidents, the Osprey seemed to be going the way of the Dodo (sorry, couldn't help myself) just a few years ago. The Marines have continued to voice their support for the project and recent success in Iraq as a troop transport seems to have resuscitated the program. Even President Obama's ride in an Osprey during a trip to Iraq during the presidential campaign helped to put the Osprey in a better light. So should the program have been axed years ago? Based on what we saw at the time, I would have said yes without much hesitation. As it becomes more integrated into the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan I think it becomes clear that it has a role to play in U.S. military operations. Bottom line: I just don't know what to think about DoD continuing to fund programs that are troubled. It is difficult to know whether the program will turn out as a marginal success like the V-22, or a Davincian failure.

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