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Marine Tilt-rotor Aircraft Set for Deployment Despite Problems

The V-22 Osprey, a new tilt-rotor aircraft, is expected to be deployed to Iraq in several months, but critics say it has operational and design problems. Correspondent Betty Ann Bowser reports on the controversy surrounding the new aircraft.

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  • BETTY ANN BOWSER, NewsHour Correspondent:

    The Marines have been putting in long hours, flying from early afternoon until late at night, because they're getting ready to take a new aircraft to war in Iraq. It's called the V-22, the Osprey.

    With temperatures hovering in the 100s, at a remote location in the Arizona desert, the conditions were miserable, similar to what they'll find when they get to the Iraqi desert.

  • LT. COL. BUDDY BIANCA, Osprey Pilot:

    We're flying multiple aircraft every day, complex missions. We're operating the aircraft in a harsh environment, the dust, the heat, and we're doing it every day.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Lt. Col. Buddy Bianca has spent the last eight years of his life training and flying the Osprey, and he loves it.

  • LT. COL. BUDDY BIANCA:

    I think that it's not evolution; it's revolution. It's different.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The Osprey is different, all right. It can take off and land like a helicopter. But when the engines are in a horizontal position, it can fly like a conventional airplane. General James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, made the decision to send Osprey to Iraq.

  • GEN. JAMES CONWAY, Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps:

    It's not the next-generation aircraft. It is a technological leap. It is pushing the envelope of science to be able to do with this airplane what no other airplane or no other nation has developed the capability to do.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The Marines say the Osprey can fly higher, faster and further than the Vietnam-era conventional helicopters it's replacing, and they say it will save lives.

  • GEN. JAMES CONWAY:

    If you look at the profile of the aircraft that we have lost, it's almost exclusively from ground fire. But if you compare that against the profile that the Osprey offers, the ability to get above small-arms fire or RPG rockets that in some cases have knocked down aircraft, all of those things point towards greater levels of survivability and just much more effectiveness on the battlefield.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The Osprey is the most expensive vertical lift system in the history of the Pentagon. In 25 years of development, it's cost $20 billion. As far back as the 1980s, questions about the price tag were being raised. Then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney told the NewsHour in 1989 that he wanted to kill the program.

    DICK CHENEY, Vice President of the United States: It's an expensive system. And over the course of the next five years, if we go with the V-22 Osprey, I'd have to spend $10 billion.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Manufacturers Bell Helicopter and Boeing Aerospace mounted a huge public relations campaign.

  • COMMERCIAL NARRATOR:

    This is the lift America needs.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    In the end, Cheney's decision didn't stick. Congress reinstated funding, so today the Osprey is in full-blown production at a cost of $110 million a piece.

    But it's not just cost that has disturbed some people. Even the Pentagon's own former chief weapons tester, Philip Coyle, now a senior adviser at the Center for Defense Information, says the Osprey won't stand up to insurgent ground fire.

  • PHILIP COYLE, Former Pentagon Chief Weapons Tester:

    It's not armored. It's not a tank. It's an aircraft. And so you have a very complex piece of equipment where bullets or other types of projectiles can strike that cannot practically be protected.

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