By Bijan Razzaghi
The MV-22 Osprey has been a successful transport platform for Marine Medium Lift squadron’s, conducting operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. The primary role of the Osprey is to transport Marines to and from the battlefield, transport Special Operations Forces and conduct Search and Rescue operations. The Osprey often cruises around 300 Mph to and from target areas leaving the Osprey without an aircraft capable of escorting it.
The Marines currently use the AH-1Z and AH-1W Super Cobra/Viper attack helicopters which lack the speec to keep up with the Osprey.Apossible viable option to provide over watch and escort for the MV-22 Osprey is the MQ-9 Reaper. Currently MQ-9 Reapers are being operated by contractors for the US Navy to conduct operations in supporting Task Force Southwest in Afghanistan. This can possibly expand the Reapers role as a support aircraft. The Reaper is not (vertical Takeoff and Landing) VTOL capable, like the Osprey nore does it have a cannon. Despite those shortcomings the Reaper can fly at speeds as fast as 300 mph allowing them to keep up with the Osprey in addition the MQ-9 Reaper also can carry up to 14 AGM-114 Hellfire Missiles. The MQ-9 Reaper is capable of conducting ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance Reconnaissance) The AN/DAS-1 MTS-B Multi Spectral Targeting System allows the reaper to identify and engage targets up to 5 miles away.
Reapers could fly above Osprey formations and clear landing zones from threats while also being able to identify and call out targets for Osprey gunners. The biggest threat to MV-22 Osprey crews are RPGs, MANPADs and AA guns. Reapers can engage and destroy these threats before the Ospreys reach there landing zones. The Reapers loiter time can allows Marines on the ground to continue to receive support from the Reapers throughout their mission.
It is unclear what role the Reapers will play while supporting the Marines of Task Force West, yet it is clear that they can be an effective tool in providing support for Osprey crews who do not have any rotary wing platform to provide escort for them. There are plans to convert the Osprey into a gunship capable of deploying AGM-114 hellfire’s of its own along with a more power gun. This can also be a viable option.