The surprise announcement that Israel was acquiring the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey for its special forces has led other countries to take a second look at buying the aircraft that has greater range and speed than conventional helicopters.
“I can tell you that several countries are very, very interested” in the Osprey, said William Schroeder, a spokesman for Bell Boeing of Fort Worth, Tex.
Schroeder declined to name the interested countries, but the United Arab Emirates has been haggling with Bell Boeing for more than a year on unit prices, and Britain and Canada have also inquired about the Ospreys.
The sale of Ospreys to Israel — if coupled with buys from other states — could insure keeping the production line open past the current phase out date in 2018.
U.S. and Israel officials have yet to say how many of the $70 million Ospreys that Israel will buy, or the price that the Israelis will pay.
Defense Department officials last Friday made the surprise announcement that the Israelis would be getting the Osprey ahead of a trip to the region by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Hagel, who was in Israel Monday in part to seal the deal on the Ospreys as part of a major arms, will be in the Emirates later this week on his Mideast swing to wrap up details on a total $10 billion in arms sales to Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
At a joint news conference in Tel Aviv with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Hagel said the weapons for Israel included “anti-radiation missiles and advanced radars for its fleet of fighter jets, KC-135 refueling aircraft, and most significantly, the V-22 Osprey, which the U.S. has not released to any other nation.”
“The introduction of the V-22 into the Israeli Air Force will give the Israeli Air Force long-range, high-speed, maritime search-and-rescue capabilities to deal with a number of threats and contingencies,” Hagel said, but the Israelis have already made clear that they have much more in mind for the Ospreys than sea rescues when the aircraft becomes operational with its special forces.
Ya’alon said that the arms deal showed the commitment of President Obama to guaranteeing that Israel maintained a qualitative military edge in the region against any potential adversary.
“We see your commitment in the Joint Strike Fighter program and the presidential approval of other advanced capabilities, such as the V-22 for Israel,” Ya’alon said.
Ya’alon said the arms deal with the U.S. should also send a strong signal to Iran.
“Without a credible military option,there’s no chance the Iranian regime will realize it has to stop the military nuclear project,” Ya’alon said.
The Osprey deal culminated a long courtship of Israel by the Marine Corps and Bell Boeing. Going back to early 2011, Israeli Air Force pilots were brought to the Marine air base in New River, N.C., to train on simulators and take test flights at the controls of the aircraft, said Marine Capt. Richard Ulsh, a Marine spokesman. “No other [foreign] militaries have done that” or been afforded the opportunity, Ulsh said.
Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the Israeli chief of staff, has also taken test flights on the Osprey but not at the controls.
The Osprey would fit into Gantz’ announced design to create a joint special operations force for Israel, similar to the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command. The MV-22s, with their in-flight refueling capacities, would be used for long-range commando raids against emerging threats in the region.
It was unclear whether Gantz was interested in the MV-22 standard Osprey used by the Marines, or the CV-22 used by Air Force special forces, which is fitted with extra wing fuel tanks and an AN/APQ-186 terrain-following radar.
More than 30 Marines and test pilots were killed in accidents during the developmental stages of the Osprey, but its performance in Iraq and Afghanistan has sparked the interest of other militaries in the advantages of an aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter and can reach speeds of 300 mph in horizontal flight.
The interest spiked last year as the Osprey performed at the Farnborough Air Show outside London, and at similar airshows in Singapore and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.