NEW YORK – Textron Inc.’s V-22 Osprey, the tilt-rotor craft that entered development almost 25 years ago, is poised to win its first export deals as Israel and Japan close in on purchases.
“It’s possible that we could be under contract by the end of the year,” John Garrison, chief executive officer of Textron’s Bell Helicopter unit, said in an interview at the Farnborough Air Show outside London. “The foreign military sales process does take time so it’s always hard to forecast.”
The Pentagon notified Congress of a possible $1.13 billion sale of at least six V-22s to Israel in January, while Japan could purchase 17, according to a request for proposals. There are also “a couple” of other strong export prospects in the 10- to 12-aircraft range, Garrison said.
Selling Ospreys abroad would be a milestone for an aircraft that was put on a five-year hiatus after fatal accidents as Bell and co-developer Boeing Co. refined the technology that lets it take off vertically like a helicopter and cruise like a plane. The teething pains spurred calls in the U.S. to scrap a model sought by the military for that mix of capabilities.
Export options are opening up after successful deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the Osprey has amassed more than 250,000 flight hours, Garrison said. Deliveries through June totaled 274. The V-22’s reputation has been enhanced by its use in the relief effort after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and the rescue of a downed U.S. fighter pilot in Libya.
For Israel, the Osprey would improve the ability to conduct commando and rescue operations, while in Japan it could provide rapid access to distant island territories, Garrison said. Fort Worth, Texas-based Bell and Chicago-based Boeing build the aircraft.
Production from the first tranche of orders will be completed next quarter, and work will then commence on a 99-aircraft follow-on deal that gives the companies “some stability and some visibility that is then helping foreign military sales,” Garrison said.
V-22 production peaked at 41 in 2013 and is due to be 36 this year, followed by about 24 units annually through the rest of the decade, allowing 20 or so for the U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force with the rest available for export, Garrison said.
The aircraft has overcome design, safety and reliability setbacks, including two crashes in 2000 that killed 23 marines.