The Osprey and Innovation: Breaking the Mold


2013-08-05 Secretary Wynne recently underscored that with the Osprey, “the Marines are busily embracing the 21st century operational concept.”

During this year’s visit to New River, discussions with Col. Seymour, the CO of MAG 26 and with Major Frank “Robo” Rhobotham, VMM-364 Remain Behind Element (RBE) Officer in Charge (OIC), underscored how significant the Osprey has been in forcing culture change in the USMC and shaping new combat approaches.

The Seymour interview will be published shortly, but in this discussion with Rhobotham, two key aspects of change were discussed.

The first involved the standpoint of the Special Purpose MAGTF, now in Spain, and the second the changing approaches associated with a younger generation of maintainers, who work on the Osprey.

Rhobotham discussed the very short period from the generation of the concept of the Special Purpose MAGTF to its execution. It took about eight months from inception to deployment.

He emphasized the flexibility of the force and its light footprint. “With a six-ship Osprey force supported by three C-130s we can move it as needed. The three C-130s are carrying all the support equipment to operate the force as well.”

The flexibility, which the Osprey now offers Combatant Commanders and US defense officials, is a major strategic and tactical tool for the kind of global reality the US now faces, requiring rapid support and insertion of force.

SLD: Could you describe the process as seen from your end?

Major Rhobotham: We received a request to look at the deployment of a 6-ship detachment of Ospreys to operate flexibly as a group.  That started a long, long conversation because it depends on what you want to do with those six airplanes.

Are we going austere, are we working from a prepared zone; are we going to fly 100 hours a month, or are we going to fly 500 hours a month? And where are we going to operate it for environment matters to the performance and endurance of the aircraft?

It is similar to thinking about ground transportation and what car you would used.

Take the Baja 500, for example.  If you buy a truck from the Ford dealership, and you drive it around LA, you’re going to get 150,000 miles out of it.  You take that same truck and you attempt to run the Baja 500, you won’t make it past the first day.

It is the same thing with this aircraft.  If I go from paved runway to paved runway and I fly in airplane mode the entire way, I’m going to get a lot more use out of it.  And if I’m flying it like a helicopter and I’m landing in nasty, dusty, dirty environments, it’s going to break down, as any mechanical device will do in that environment.

Additional questions had to be answered.

Where are we going?  What are we going to do, how much are we going to fly?  Who are we supporting, how are we being supported?

We then got a response back that Africom was interested in what a six-plane V-22 force would look like. With the Africom focus that shrunk the bubble down.  The continent of Africa has about every single environment out there.

Mali happens in the middle of this. While we were not told that Mali was even in the play, it was dominating the news in the time period that we began the planning. We really started looking at the western coast of Northern Africa, we looked at the Northern portion of Africa, and obviously Libya is all fresh in everybody’s memory.

We’re an assault support unit; we are always supporting, and we’re supporting the Marines.  So obviously, we, by ourselves, are not a force.  We enable somebody else to be a more efficient, more effective force.

And that also helps as well in thinking about the deployment focus.

MV-22 Osprey Landing Aboard the USNS Robert E. Peary during the Bold Alligator exercise. Shaping an ability to move systems around on platforms, and islands or on Allied bases will be a key to shaping a new Pacific strategy.Credit: USN 

What can we do with the company, how can we help a company?  And we fell back upon our MEU mission sets.  If we’re going to be supporting the African countries with a company, we draw upon what we know.

We were given some restraints to the diplomatic clearances with our European partners, which shaped the force to a certain degree.  And then there’s always the what-ifs.

As a result, we deployed out relatively heavy.  We’re running two ships of maintenance in the field, and we have round the clock maintenance.

SLD: Obviously the light footprint of the force gives it significant operational flexibility.

Major Rhobotham: That is a significant benefit. If for some reason, due to political turmoil in any of those countries, it doesn’t take much to completely pack up and move.

And it helps that the Osprey has a refueling probe.  We’re no longer limited to how far the ship is willing to steam in one day.  Now we’re limited to how much can that tanker hold?

And we can put the Marines in the back and tank, and as long as I’ve got a C-130 that’s willing to go with me and has something to give me, it’s human limited now. How many hours can I fly this airplane before I’m too fatigued?

SLD: The Marines deployed the SP MAGTF in April?

Major Rhobotham: It was deployed in April and it actually self-deployed.  The V-22s flew across the Atlantic, and although it has been done before, this is a new operational reality which folks need to recognize exists.  We got all the airplanes where they needed to go flying there, and not being airlifted by the USAF.

SLD: You are preparing to shift out a new group of Marines to replace the currently deployed SP-MAGTF, I believe?

Major Rhobotham: That is correct. The Marines from 365 will return, and the Marines from 162 will go out.  And right now, it’s scheduled to be the same package.  It is scheduled to be the same number of marines, and the same number of aircraft.

SLD: In your view how is the SP-MAGTF different from a MEU?

Major Rhobotham: It compliments a MEU very, very well.  It is a different tool set.  It is similar to having both a screwdriver and you’ve got a drill in your toolbox; that drill is a lot like the MEU.  It’s a lot more powerful, it can go a lot faster; it can do a little bit more powerful things.  But it doesn’t mean you need to throw away your screwdriver.

The SP-MAGTF has a lighter footprint, and we can go to any place that the government sees that needs a little bit of attention; we can drop one of these special purpose MGTFs off.

We can just go wherever we need to, drop it off, and then when that situation’s resolved itself or reached some sort of threshold that we feel comfortable, we can pick this up and move it anywhere we want to.

In the past we would have to fly in infrastructure or move by ship; establish the infrastructure and the diplomatic agreements to place the infrastructure in country.  Now I can fly in the force; stay until I wish or need to depart.

A special purpose MGTF is not to replace a MEU; it is to compliment a MEU.  And while there are separate commands, they’re not led by the same colonel, they’re designed to complement each other, not to replace each other or be lieu of each other.

And I think that’s probably a point that doesn’t get made enough.

SLD: The other major cultural change with which the Osprey is associated which you mentioned earlier has been the rise of a new generation of maintainers able to handle the complexity of maintaining something like the Osprey.

Major Rhobotham: A major change which I have experienced, but really is not talked about is the role of the new generation and their ability to process information and combat learning.

The new genreation grew up with such an influx of information that they are able to process information in ways that are a challenge for me, and for my parent’s generation are impossible.

And it makes them amazing mechanics. 

My Marines downstairs can flip through publications and can resource four or five different sources of information and come up with amazingly creative solutions to problems.

When I grew up, you would go to the library, you’d grab the encyclopedia, you’d get the first cut from the encyclopedia, you’d then grab two or three references, beyond that you’d support your theory, your statement, your thesis, whatever it was.

For this generation, they are very used to opening up a source and saying well, I can’t prove that this information that was published by so-and-so on this website’s true.  And they’ll grab something 180 out, cross-reference it and make an assessment, and that is a significant capability for troubleshooting.

We have items that don’t always fail the same way every day.  For example, I’m getting an indication in the cockpit of a certain failure, and these new mechanics can go through one publication, and it will indicate that they are to test this wire, or that wire, and if those pass, change the sensor, and then after that, you call an engineer.

And these young men and women are incredibly creative. 

They will look at a different publication that was talking about a similar sensor in a different part of the aircraft, it has these three other steps.  Why aren’t these three steps in here?

And then, the next thing you know, they have built procedures that we then write into the process.

I attribute it to the way their brains and the way they’re socially trained even from a young age to look at information and not necessarily believe that just because it’s written in a book it’s the end all, be all.

This thinking process is crucial, especially with an airplane that’s complicated as the V-22.

[slidepress gallery=’usmc-special-purpose-magtf’]

The slideshow highlights various aspects of the USMC working in Europe and Africa. 

The Special Purpose MAGTF is a key tool for such operations.

  • In the first two photos shot at MORON DE LA FRONTERA, Spain, six MV-22B Ospreys assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 arrived here April, 27 in support of Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response (SP-MAGTF). The fleet of six executed the longest and largest transatlantic flight of any MV-22B squadron to date, traveling from Marine Corps Air Station New River. The MV-22B Ospreys, along with two KC-130J aircraft from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 and other command and control assets and support staff make up the aviation command element for SP-MAGTF. SP-MAGTF  will provide limited defense crisis response in support of U.S. Embassies in the region, to support non-combatant evacuation operations, humanitarian disaster relief operations or provide recovery capabilities.
  • In photos, three, four and five, Marines from Special Purpose MAGTF Africa 13 work with Burundi National Defense Force soldiers work together to construct linear charges at an artillery range near the 110 Brigade Compund, Buramata, Burundi, March 19, 2013.The soldiers learned how to make the charges from U.S. Marines assigned to Special-Purpose MAGTF Africa 13, who are conducting training as part of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
  • In photos, 6, 7 and Marines are working in Morocco.  The 14th Marine Regiment were assigned to the 4th Marine Division.

Exercise African Lion is a U.S. Africa Command-scheduled, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Africa- led, joint multi-lateral exercise.

In April, 2013, the joint task force, consisting of U.S. Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen, were able to conduct modified joint training for Exercise African Lion 13, demonstrating their ability to adapt to unpredicted circumstances, restore mission essential tasks, build interoperability and create friendships during the remaining days of the evolution.

The logistics component continued to exercise vigilant, safe and rapid retrograde of almost 1,200 personnel and 250 short-tons of vehicles and equipment while working with Moroccan partners and contractors to sustain the force and redeploy them back to their home stations in a timely and efficient manner.

  •  In the final photo, the Marines are supporting the training of forces for the Mali mission.