The Marine Corps is now committed to putting cockpit voice recorders on its fleet of MV-22 Ospreys for the first time since the requirement became law more than a decade ago, according to Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, the service's top aviation official.
In a March 15 interview with Inside the Pentagon, Robling said he issued verbal guidance last week directing Marine Corps officials to program $10.3 million in the service's fiscal year 2013 budget plan for the technology. That new guidance from Robling, who became the deputy commandant for aviation in January, marks the first time the service has agreed to fund the capability since Congress mandated it for all Ospreys in October 2000.
ITP reported last December that the Defense Department had left the requirement unfunded for years and that the head Air Force investigator of the April 9, 2010, Osprey crash in Afghanistan said such a device could have helped conclusively prove the cause of the disaster. That prompted the House Armed Services Committee in recent days to press the Marine Corps and the Air Force to meet the statutory requirement.
"It's one of those [where] if you don't ask the question, you don't know what the problem is," Robling said, noting the problem came to light "based on the press article given to the members here. And we looked back and said yeah, there's a requirement."
In the decade since the need for the cockpit voice recorders became law in the Fiscal Year 2001 National Defense Authorization Act, the requirement did not successfully compete against other priorities in the military's long-term budget process, Robling said, adding there was "no forcing function" to make it happen. But now that the Marine Corps is funding the requirement, it could still take years to implement.
Assuming the $10.3 million makes it into the final version of the Pentagon's FY-13 budget request and that Congress approves the request, the Osprey program would start including cockpit voice recorders in new MV-22s in FY-17, Robling said.
The program might be able to start retrofitting the capability on existing MV-22s sometime in FY-13, mere months after Congress and the president finalize the FY-13 budget, the general said, noting he was "guessing" on the timing. Naval Air Systems Command, which oversees the program, must first approve a modification, he said.
Completing the task of putting the capability on all MV-22s will take years, Robling predicted.
"I mean, 360 aircraft -- that's a lot of aircraft," he said.
MV-22s are being produced with the Model K Voice And Data Recorder (K-VADR) included, but for now the voice-recording capability is not enabled, he said.
In a March 16 statement provided via a spokeswoman, V-22 program manager Col. Greg Masiello said K-VADR has been installed on MV-22s and CV-22s coming off the production line since December 2010. "Retrofit kits are scheduled to be delivered this spring for both models," he said.
The program office plans to issue a request for proposals to integrate the voice-recording capability on the CV-22 in the third quarter of FY-11, he said.
Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford, the military deputy in the Air Force's acquisition shop, told ITP March 15 that officials have programmed $3 million in FY-12 for non-recurring engineering for the voice portion of the K-VADR. The Osprey program is slated to issue a request for proposals for the work, he said, noting it is unknown how soon the voice-recording capability might be enabled for CV-22s.
The flight data recorder capability currently on Ospreys does not include voice data but it collects about 90 percent of the information investigators would need in the event of a crash, Robling said.
In the case of the CV-22 crash in Afghanistan last year, the flight data recorder was presumed destroyed after Air Force personnel unaware of its existence failed to retrieve it before bombing the wreckage on the battlefield. The Accident Investigation Board, led by now-retired Brig. Gen. Donald Harvel, could not pinpoint the crash's cause. But cockpit voice recordings could have turned the investigation into a "slam dunk" by revealing whether the pilot's heated conversation in the final moments of flight concerned unexpected mechanical problems, Harvel said in an interview last year (ITP, Dec. 23, 2010, p1). -- Christopher J. Castelli