Moving Forward With the Osprey: The Next Challenges to Be Met

Lt. Col. Boniface during the SLD interview August, 22 2011 (Credit: SLD)

2012-09-23 In a continuing dialogue with Lt. Col. Boniface, VMM 266 Commanding Officer, we talked about the future.  Where was the Osprey going in terms of Marine Corps operations and what challenges needed to be met to get best value operationally from what this transformational aircraft brings to the fight.

In our last interview, Boniface discussed what he saw was a “Tsunami of Change Coming.”

There is a tsunami of change coming when we talk about the ability to fight an enemy and to support Marines ashore.

We can increase our area of operations (AOR) exponentially because we can spread out our ships; now we have an aviation connector that can move Marines a tremendous amount of distance and in a very short amount of time.  We can also use this capability to leverage our other aviation assets like our AV8-Bs, CH-53’s, AH-1Ws and UH-1Ys to support the MAGTF and ultimately damage the enemy’s will to fight.  Let’s not just move 50-100 miles ashore, but let’s move 200-500 miles ashore, and do it at an increased speed, range and lethality.

Lt. Col. Boniface after the SLD interview at New River, August 2012. Credit: SLD

As he was preparing to return to sea, we had a chance to talk about some of the key challenges which he believed needed to be dealt with as the USMC moved forward with integrating the Osprey into its evolving concepts of operations.

SLD: What is a change you would like to see in the Osprey in the next five years to better utilize its capability?

Boniface: Clearly, number 1 is to get significant upgrades in capability to work with other assets.  We have an excellent mission computer but it is largely designed to operate the plane and is not designed to link either as a fleet or with the force.  We need to modify the mission computer to be network enabled.

This will be especially important as the F-35 Bravo joins the fleet.  We will have a significant C5ISR asset and we need to ensure that it has seamless connectivity with the Osprey.

SLD: What about shipboard connectivity?

Boniface:  That is another challenge.  We need to enhance the ability of the commanders aboard the ships to be able to command or evolving aviation assets.  Given the range and speed of the Osprey and the Bravo, command and control will be challenged by current Command and Control shipboard systems.

SLD: And I would imagine that the innovations in combining land with sea-based aviation would drive change as well for shipboard C5ISR?

Boniface: It will.  We were discussing the self-deployment capability of the Osprey earlier.  When Ospreys deploy aboard ships, they can clearly be joined in operations by land based Ospreys.  In fact, thinking of a mix and match approach between sea-based and land-based Ospreys is inherent in their range and speed.

But our current command and control systems are severely challenged to be able to command seamlessly shore and land based assets into a single mission set.

Everyone wants these sleek, neat looking planes.  It is harder to focus on the C5ISR technologies.

SLD: Do you think the USMC and USN have fully grasped what the Osprey can bring to the party?

Boniface: I think there is solid tactical understanding, but the strategic consequences of deploying an Osprey fleet are not fully appreciated.  The ability to perform multiple missions at range and speed, to have Ospreys show up days before the ships can arrive in the Area of Operation, can have a strategic effect.  And we need to think through this impact as well.

Indeed, in places like the Mediterranean, one can operate significant Osprey capability without even using a ship.  We can do “sea” operations from the variety of land bases that border the Gulf and the Mediterranean.  One could begin to think of the ship as one of the staging areas, but perhaps the center of Command and Control for an operation, leveraging land-based Osprey air. .  I like the flexibility that it just doesn’t have to all the Ospreys sit on a ship.

(Also see the following on the Osprey deployment at the 5 year mark.