By / May 21, 2001

Newly sworn-in Pentagon acquisition executive Pete Aldridge has issued the Navy instructions on how to proceed with the V-22 Osprey program and in the process has taken acquisition decision authority for the program away from the Navy and given it to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, defense sources tell Inside the Navy.

The Navy recently briefed Aldridge on its V-22 road map, which is based on the recommendations of the blue ribbon panel that recently reviewed the program. A naval source said Aldridge has expressed general agreement with the Navy's plans. Some officials in the Pentagon are reading the move to mean the Defense Department does not intend to kill the Osprey program.

In a letter to the Navy, Aldridge has given "general agreement with the focus" of the restructured Osprey program the Navy has proposed to him, said the source, adding that Aldridge wants to review how the Navy is doing with the program in three months.

In a statement issued to ITN at press time on Friday, the Pentagon confirmed the Navy is "proceeding with a restructured V-22 program to resolve outstanding issues." This is a "follow-up" to the V-22 blue ribbon panel's recommendation that the program proceed with a phased approach to return to flight and fleet introduction, a Pentagon spokesman told ITN.

Based on the blue ribbon panel's recommendations, "the Navy will proceed with procurement of a minimum sustainable aircraft production rate that preserves the critical subcontractor vendor base and assures the contractor continues work to achieve" the objectives of the restructured program, according to the Pentagon statement.

The acting Navy acquisition executive has, in accordance with the blue ribbon panel's recommendations, requested that the Joint Requirements Oversight Council review the V-22 requirement. A V-22 executive committee is also being established with senior level representation from the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Special Operations Command, presidents of the major contractors and user representatives, the Pentagon confirmed. This group will focus on the government contractor approach to the program, the cost and schedule performance, areas of technical risk and other details of testing, supporting and restructuring the program. The first meeting of the group is planned for early June.

But the Pentagon acquisition czar also made one change the Navy did not propose.

"Basically he's designated this as an ACAT-1D program," said the source, referencing the Pentagon's name for acquisition programs that have the highest level of oversight in the Pentagon. The Office of the Secretary of Defense -- as opposed to just the individual services -- must review ACAT-1D programs before they can advance into new phases.

The Osprey operates like a helicopter for takeoffs and landings. Once airborne, the V-22 converts to a turboprop airplane. Bell Helicopter Textron and Boeing have developed the aircraft. The Marine Corps plans to buy 360 Osprey aircraft, while the Air Force plans to buy 50 CV-22 variants. The Navy may also buy 48 V-22s. The Bush administration, however, has not yet decided the fate of the program, which came under increased scrutiny last year after two fatal mishaps.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has been reviewing the program. In a briefing to Wolfowitz, the blue ribbon panel recommended the program be restructured using a three-phased approach. Until now, the Pentagon had not this year formally announced a position on the program's future. It will be up to the Pentagon's acquisition executive -- not the Navy's assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition -- to decide if and when the Osprey can enter full production.

"I'm not the least bit surprised. We have programs that are lesser visibility than this that are ACAT-1D," said the naval official. Citing then-Defense Secretary William Cohen's creation last year of an independent panel to review the program, the Navy official explained the change in ACAT status is not a shock, even though the Navy did not suggest it to OSD.

Some lesser-known naval programs such as the T-AKE cargo ship are also ACAT-1D programs overseen by OSD, the source noted. The T-AKE is supposed to be a simple ship with no combat system, the source noted.

The main topics the Navy briefed to Aldridge concerning the V-22 included what the service is going to do about aerodynamic performance, flight control system reliability, overall reliability, logistics, training, and spares. Aldridge has acknowledged the service laid out a V-22 plan at a high level, and told the service to go execute it, said the source.

Around the time of the fatal V-22 mishap on Dec. 11, 2000, the Osprey program was scheduled to meet with then-Navy acquisition executive Lee Buchanan for a possible full-rate production decision. That decision was postponed indefinitely after the December crash, the second fatal Osprey accident in 2000.

To date, the Osprey has only been produced in low-rate production for testing purposes. The blue ribbon panel that reviewed the program has recommended cutting production of the aircraft to the bare minimum and requiring a range of fixes before the aircraft is approved for introduction into the fleet. -- Christopher J. Castelli